Stopping The Stigma
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Politics and Activism

Stopping The Stigma

For understanding, not judgement.

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Stopping The Stigma
Nikki Daurio

“I wouldn’t be scared to tell my friend that I have a cold or a broken leg, why should I be scared to tell them that I’m depressed?”(Nikki Daurio)—This appears in the cover photo for the recently created Facebook page Stopping The Stigma. It, along with the accompanying Instagram, created by Nikki Daurio of the Harvard Class of 2019, is a platform for sharing stories on individuals’ experiences with mental illness in an effort to end the unfortunate stigma against it. I consider myself lucky to know someone as strong as Nikki, who drew inspiration from her own personal experience:

“I was inspired to create “Stopping the Stigma” when I came out publicly about my depression, my previous suicidal ideation, and my hospitalization. I received an outpouring of love and positive responses, but one troubling thing stood out to me. Out of all the supportive messages, 22 of my friends told me in confidence that they struggled with mental health issues too. These issues ranged from being hospitalized for suicide attempts to dealing with depression and anxiety. It was appalling to me that 22 of my friends had been quietly struggling for so long, and that they had all stayed quiet due to the stigma surrounding mental health. I was inspired to create this page so that people like me and my friends would be able to speak out about something we struggle with, without it defining us as human beings.”

This movement is one for understanding. So we’ll try to get there, at least a little bit, right now. First, what is stigma? According to Webster, it is “a set of negative and often unfair beliefs that a society or group of people have about something.”

Stigma against mental health? The most common “negative and often unfair beliefs” include:

Mental illness is caused by personal weakness.

Mental illness is a choice—those affected can choose to make it go away.

These beliefs can manifest in a variety of ways, from micro aggressions to discrimination, leading many to avoid treatment and fear speaking to others about their experiences. The fear is not irrational. An Australian study done in 2006 found that nearly 1 in 4 people thought depression was a “sign of personal weakness” that would give reason not to hire them. 42% of people believed those diagnosed with depression were unpredictable and a third of people said they would not vote for a politician with depression.

Let’s lower those numbers.

Fact: mental illnesses are caused by genetic, biological, social and environmental factors.

Fact: one cannot choose a mental illness anymore than they can choose to have the flu.

Fact: dealing with a mental illness does NOT make one weak or fragile or in need of pity.

Stopping the Stigma is showing these facts in action with real people bravely telling their stories. This kind of vulnerability is a sign of their strength. Knowing full well what others may think of them, they are living in their own truth. This truth can and already is helping many feel understood amongst the stigma that surrounds them, as well as educate those who may hold some stigma without realizing—

“Responses have been nothing but positive. A lot of responses have been from people who just didn’t understand because mental health isn’t a thing that is regularly talked about, and I love the fact that this page is helping to educate them.” -Nikki Daurio

Education, as Nikki mentions, is important. Reading these stories or hearing them from people you know can be overwhelming for anyone who has not experienced it first hand. I will not be sharing my personal story at this time, however, I would like to give some advice, based on my experience, on being a support when someone shares their story with you:

Don’t change the way you treat them.

They told you hoping you were the person who would listen and accept that this doesn’t make them any less great or any less them. This includes referring to them as ‘fragile,’ coddling, or treating them harshly in an effort to make them stronger. I repeat—dealing with a mental illness does NOT make anyone weak. I realize these actions are usually(and were in my case) said/done with care and concern, however battling a mental illness is a fight. It takes strength to fight, let alone tell someone else about the fight.

Sometimes, you will not understand.

If you have never been where they are, its possible that no amount of explanation will help you truly understand their situation. Don't try to. They had the courage to tell you about it, if they are getting help from a professional, let them decide wether to tell you more or less. These aren't easy things to talk about; asking a million questions in an attempt to understand only makes them feel even more 'different' or 'abnormal' than they probably already do.

Do not compare or belittle.

You may think you are above the stigma if you recognize some conditions as 'real diagnosable illnesses', but not others. (unless you are a medical professional)Telling someone their particular behaviors do not fit 'the requirements' for a mental illness does not make them feel any better. This belittles their issues and places blame on them, rather than the illness they are dealing with. Saying things like "you're not that bad, you just need to do blank(insert: toughen up, remember all the good things in your life, gain some self control)" belittles their struggle to nothing more than a personal flaw. Again, you may not understand why they don't just decide to change, but that is because you cannot see that beating what they are dealing with takes more than a conscious choice to change on their own, as what they are fighting is an illness, they need treatment as well.

Looking forward, Nikki has high hopes,

“In terms of mental health, I hope that in the future we can normalize it to the point that it can be treated as if it were a physical health issue, so that people aren’t afraid to talk about it. The self isolation that often accompanies depression is very dangerous. It is so important that people be able to identify depression and anxiety as a significant health issue and be comfortable seeking treatment.”

“Mental health matters. The only way to accomplish a university’s goal of cultivating bright minds is to keep those minds healthy. Since I am a college student, I would love to see us stop the stigma at universities. Colleges are pressure cooker environments and depression and anxiety are more common than we know. Students need to feel comfortable to speak openly about their problems and seek help.”

You can support Stopping the Stigma by liking and following the Facebook and Instagram pages, as well as emailing and sharing your story to nikkistoppingthestigma@gmail.com.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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