Instagram Account Speaks on Stigma
Here at Break the Stigma we believe in giving a voice to those needing to be heard on the topic of mental health and stigma. We recently came across a brand new Instagram account that we believe has the potential to reach millions one day. We asked for the account holder (Erin Malley) to write an article for this website in hopes that her message of survival, hope, and advocacy can reach those beyond her sphere of connections. And we are so glad she accepted. See below for Erin's article on her story and her take on mental health stigma. If you like what you see, take some time to visit her Instagram account as it is a joy to peruse. Link below. Enjoy!
Break the Stigma by Erin Malley.
The conversation around stigma towards mental illness in society seems to be a revolving door. At age 30, I feel very comfortable sharing my journey with depression, anxiety and borderline personality disorder. However, it hasn’t always been this comfortable for me and I know I am in a minority of people who are comfortable talking to strangers about my personal struggle. I was diagnosed with depression at 11 years old, in the 90’s and early 2000’s, it was still relatively frowned upon to discuss your mental illness. I remember being scared about classmates finding out and being viewed as weird, dangerous, or crazy. These were some of the stigmas I learned to associate with mental illness based on TV, movies, and older family members. In the entertainment industry, they showed me people with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia going to jail or a mental institution and I worried if that was what the future had in store for me.
Prior to being diagnosed as a child, I remember feeling sad constantly. My grandfathers both died when I was very young and I remember that all I wanted was to be with them. This pain and this sadness was so strong that my first suicide attempt was when I was 11 years old. This event is what led to my diagnosis. I hid my diagnosis of depression and my struggle from everyone except immediate family until I was 23 years old. Truthfully, I have no idea who knew back then because I never told anyone and I never asked my parents who they were telling. It felt like a big, dirty secret because I was ashamed so I assumed my parents were as well. After an attempt that nearly killed me at 23 years old, I decided I couldn’t worry about the negative comments anymore. I had to be open about my story and struggle if I wanted to pursue a healthy life. When I started opening up to my social media followers, I quickly discovered how many people I went to school with also suffered from depression. Imagine if we hadn’t all grown up with the stigma of mental illness; we all could have helped each other get through it rather than being forced to mask the pain and the hurt every single day.
Being diagnosed with a mental health disorder is unnerving because you start to overthink and analyze everything about your life, trying to see how you fit the mold of the diagnosis. If dealing with the diagnosis isn’t enough, you’re also faced with the stigma surrounding people with mental illness. Thoughts and perceptions surrounding these disorders are often still due to negative media representation. You feel ashamed when you watch a movie and hear someone call a character “crazy” or “psychotic” when they are acting in way similar to you. You can’t say anything about your diagnosis because they may view you in that way as well. You must learn to accept your own diagnosis and worry about your loved ones accepting it at the same time because you’re going to need their support. A common misconception about suicide attempts is that people are doing it for attention, especially younger kids. But what people don’t understand, is they are hurt and feel like the only way they will ever escape from the pain is to die. They believe they are a burden to their family and friends, and they would be so much happier if they didn’t have to deal with their loved ones’ mental health.
Even after almost dying when I was 23, I was still hearing people say I was doing it for attention. Can you imagine someone you love, being in so much mental agony that they decide they shouldn’t be alive, and then they hear someone say they’re just looking for attention? It just adds to the hurt and the feeling of worthlessness, often contributing to increased isolation. People ask all the time, “why are you depressed” or “what is there for you to be sad about”, they may think they are helping by trying to help you “just get over it.” By asking these questions, they are diminishing the illness that I have no control over.
Stigma often comes from lack of understanding. Unless someone close to you is diagnosed with a mental illness, there likely isn’t a reason for you to learn too much about the subject. People don’t realize mental illness is just the same as being diagnosed with any other illness; yet, mental illness rarely has a cure, only lifelong treatment that you must maintain. Many individuals avoid seeking treatment due to the associated stigma. People experience the negative connotations around therapy or medications and feel they are judged or treated differently when seeking help. To this day, there are still people suffering in silence because they feel the same shame I felt almost 20 years ago. We are raised in a society to believe that it’s wrong to reveal your mental illness. This is unacceptable, because if we begin to talk about mental illness and our individual stories and struggles, we can begin to break the stigma.
I recently decided that I have lived with the stigma long enough and I need to fight back for anyone who has ever been told that they are just seeking attention. I am comfortable sharing my story now so I need to be brave enough to fight for the ones who still suffer in silence. If someone needs to take a mental health day from events or work, they should not be shamed. They should be praised for putting their mental health first; this should be encouraged. Especially during a global pandemic, everyone is stressed; so, if they need to seek therapy or other help, no one should stand in their way, especially stigma telling them they are weak. The only way to save lives that could be lost to suicide is to break the stigma.
To visit Erin's new page on Instagram click the following link for great advice, words of encouragement, and witness an all around great mental health advocate: https://www.instagram.com/surviving.borderline/?utm_medium=copy_link