Blog

Sep9
2013

Challenging Stigma.

By Aaron Moore

If TWLOHA were to update a status for this week, it would read that we feel “hopeful.” Much preparation has gone into 2013’s National Suicide Prevention Week, as it is a unique opportunity to address a topic so often neglected in our world. This week never ceases to be something beautiful, a chance to fight for the lives of loved ones, strangers, maybe even ourselves. At the same time, however, this week can feel like a necessary evil for many of us. It may remind us of those we’ve lost or of our own struggles. In this way, National Suicide Prevention Week is something we wish we did not need, but sadly, we have great reason to engage in. Which is why many organizations and groups are using this time to focus on the stigma and shame that keep these important conversations from happening.

We have said in the past that we know stigma is built on lies. It is founded and fed by the myths we believe about mental health issues and about those who struggle with them. Perhaps it is the lie that suicide only affects people who are “messed up,” the idea that depression only reaches those who are weak, or even the belief that if we share our struggles with someone, they will not understand or care. But the more we learn the truth about these difficult topics, the more we can bring it into the light and move toward healing and recovery, as well as the work of prevention. We have to learn that issues like depression, addiction, and suicide are not partial to weak people, but are struggles any of us may walk through, simply because we are human. We have to continue to filter the lies and myths about mental illness out of our society, replacing them with facts. This will go an incredibly long way toward eradicating the stigma that is still so prevalent. 

But just knowing the truth is not enough. While stigma may be founded on lies, it is also built within a social context, woven throughout the intricate fabric of our relationships. It is within our society and culture that the effects of stigma are felt. These effects range from the silence and shame surrounding mental health issues to the oppressive attitudes toward those struggling, even influencing the way treatment options such as therapy and medication are viewed. The powerful stigma attached to mental health communicates an illusion of separation between those who struggle and those who don’t—a false dichotomy between the healthy and the sick. The damage this creates extends across our society and into each of our lives and relationships.  

As we work to reduce the stigma attached to mental health, we can learn much from the fight against the stigma connected with HIV. One main way it was reduced was through learning the truth about HIV—how it was transmitted, who had it, what treatment looked like, and more. This knowledge went far in combatting some vicious lies that hurt so many in our society. But some research pointed to yet another component that proved powerful in greatly reducing stigma toward HIV: individuals who had a friendship or relationship with someone who was HIV-positive. Those with a personal connection to someone with HIV were drastically less likely to have a stigmatized, discriminating response.

What does this mean for us? It means we need each other. We need relationships and community around us. It means we have to continue listening to each other’s stories, and we must continue sharing our own. We need to know each other’s accounts of suffering, as well as our experiences of healing and recovery.

Thomas Joiner, one of the foremost researchers in the subject of suicide, has found that one of the most common thoughts present in those who are suicidal is the idea of being a burden on others. A second was that of being “hopelessly alienated, cut off and isolated from others”—a feeling of not belonging. Both of these speak to the power of our relationships and communities, whether or not we realize it.

The more we walk through our struggles in silence, the more we deprive others of the benefit of knowing they are not alone. Knowing the truth about the issues is vital, but we can get it from a textbook or Google in just a moment. Unless it is connected with real people, it lacks the power needed to combat stigma. We have to move beyond an awareness of the issues and become truly aware of each other.

Real relationships are the true antidote to the separation that stigma breeds between “healthy” and “sick.” Relationships require us to see the real person who is suffering, struggling, recovering, and healing. They are the place in which we find hope and encouragement to keep fighting, and the place where lies are defeated with truth and compassion. This is the path toward hope and healing—for ourselves and each other—and ultimately, toward a society where stigma, shame, and suicide are struggles of the past.  

Aaron Moore is a licensed mental health counselor and co-founder of Solace Counseling in Orlando, FL. You can also hear him speak at MOVE Community Conferences.

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Comments (18)

  1. Carissa Magras

    Thank you Aaron for that post! As a survivor of attempted suicide, and an advocate now to spread awareness and prevention, I appreciate you discussing the problem and stigmas, while also presenting a “cure”. If people who have never struggled with suicide or self-injury, would look past the suicidal ideation and into the hurting heart of that person, they would see a world of indescribable pain – moving the person to want to help instead of “steer clear”. Until people get willing to risk their comfort for the benefit of another person, we will never have true prevention and intervention. Suicide, self-injury, addiction, abuse, grief, loss – it’s ugly, dirty, and difficult. But we must be willing to enter into that with other people if true change is to occur. Thanks Aaron for your great post!
    ~ Carissa
    http://www.CarissaMagras.com

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  2. Katy

    As a consumer and now provider-in-training of mental health services, I really appreciate what you shared here.
    Sometimes I wondered if, as a counselor student intern, I should have been so open about my own previous struggles with depression. This post encouraged me that I can reduce stigma simply by providing a personal connection to some of these issues. Thank you for this affirmation to keep sharing my story.

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  3. Autumn Santilli

    I haven’t tried to commit suicide, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t had those dark thoughts time to time. It truly is an amazing thing to know that a whole team network across the world is dedicated to help anybody with anything they’re going through, feeling or doing. I started to get to know this girl who planned on committing suicide. She actually planned to do it today, September 9th, but some of her close friends actually got to convince her otherwise. It shows a lot that just a few words from the right people, or maybe the wrong people, but said the right way, can change your decision on if you’re going to kill yourself or not. I think that even if you don’t know someone well, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t smile at them when you walk by, or even try to know them. The smallest thing could make a difference in someones life. It could be that they get to wake up the next morning and walk by you in the halls again. Why would anybody want to notice that empty space, when they might have been the reason it wouldn’t have to be there?

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  4. Autumn Santilli

    I haven’t tried to commit suicide, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t had those dark thoughts time to time. It truly is an amazing thing to know that a whole team network across the world is dedicated to help anybody with anything they’re going through, feeling or doing. I started to get to know this girl who planned on committing suicide. She actually planned to do it today, September 9th, but some of her close friends actually got to convince her otherwise. It shows a lot that just a few words from the right people, or maybe the wrong people, but said the right way, can change your decision on if you’re going to kill yourself or not. I think that even if you don’t know someone well, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t smile at them when you walk by, or even try to know them. The smallest thing could make a difference in someones life. It could be that they get to wake up the next morning and walk by you in the halls again. Why would anybody want to notice that empty space, when they might have been the reason it wouldn’t have to be there?

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  5. Nathalie

    I love this post. I think that if we can talk about suicide and all that goes with it,we can help decrease the stigma and increase the hope! Depression can take us where we never thought we would go. For those in its grip,get help fast. Make healthy connections and you will get better!

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  6. Michelle

    I remember when one of my friends was depressed, engaged in self harm, and had thoughts of suicide. She told someone learned in science that she was depressed, thinking they’d understand the biological causes of depression, but they told her it was all in her head. The stigma isn’t just among ordinary people, but also professionals that you’d think know better because they hold a degree. Thank you so much for posting this article, which so accurately depicts the feelings regarding the prevention of suicide, as well as informing the questioning about what goes through the mind of the person who has such thoughts. I hope that one day, the stigma may be totally eradicated, and that everyone can get the fair treatment that they deserve, no matter what they are feeling inside or what they have nightmares about during the day.

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  7. Hope

    After my struggles this year with intense anxiety and depression, and the planning of committing suicide, I was so ashamed that I switched schools. I couldn’t face the people who I believed thought I was a mad, screwed up mess. I couldn’t sit through church for months because of this unspoken stigma of mental illness and suicide. But now, I am doing so much better than I ever imagined I would be again. It’s still hard sometimes, but I’m alive inside again. Starting this week, I’m pledging to myself that I will share my story and not be ashamed. I hope my story can help somebody.

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  8. Christine R.

    At the end of every day I put a small line at the bottom of my calendar. I keep a tally going throughout the year. I keep count of the days since I’ve last cut. On Sunday I was one year clean. I never thought anyone would understand my pride in this accomplishment. Or understand the addiction that cutting is an how hard ‘getting clean’ arms is. Me and my three best friends went out for drinks and food that night. They put their glasses together for me. They celebrated me. I never thought that would happen. I never thought people could love all the parts of me that I’ve just learned to love. They told me why they loved me and why they thought I was strong. They said congrats and told me how proud they were. As proud as I am of myself, every day I am proud of them for getting past the negative stigma around mental illness and self harm. They listened to me instead of a dictionary definition and none of them pulled away after hearing bipolar or seeing it. Love IS the movement.

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    1. Happy for you

      Congrats on your wonderful accomplishment. You have such strength and courage. Keep it up and never go back. You are not alone. Everyone who reads this is sending love and congratulations your way. Keep being proud. Hugs

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  9. Frankie Laursen

    After I watched Kevin Breel’s TEDx talk, I wrote this post,
    Depression: A Secret No More
    http://pretendyouregoodatit.com/2013/07/24/depression-a-secret-no-more/

    I find that a lot of times the best treatment for my depression is just chatting with a friend.

    I really like this: “The more we walk through our struggles in silence, the more we deprive others of the benefit of knowing they are not alone.” I’m going to tweet this. Thank you.

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  10. bri

    My mother committed suicide. I have attempted before. My mom did it when my daughter was 2 & my son 3 months. I think about it everyday. She dealt with me attempting when i was younger. So why did she do it? I dont tell ppl anymore. I feel like ppl see me as damaged once they know. Or think i may do it cuz she did. I do still think about it. Im very hard on myself. And deal with negative thoughts, depression, anxiety constantly. My daughter is 8 now and i think she may be figuring out what happened to my mom. Shes too young to understand. I dont want them to know. I wish they could never learn about suicide, as if it didnt exist. It gives me anxiety thinking about how i could explain it one day. Ppl say it runs in families. Id die if anyone else i loved did it. Most ppl dont want to get close to someone that has had someone impirtant commit suicide. Thats what i feel. Its a secret that hurts really bad…..

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    1. J

      just want to send ((hugs)) My husband committed suicide and everything that you wrote about how you feel meets my heart with understanding from having many similar thoughts. It IS a secret that hurts really bad…so wishing you many hugs and hearts. You have mine in support and all the caring that I can send through the universe to you.

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  11. max jasso

    I’m an 18 yrs old high school student. I’m still fighting to get finacial help for college. Twloha helped me A LOT during my major depression, self-harm, anxiety and addiction, i’m still fighting to get
    better and start a new life, i want to go to college but i don’t have any money, i want to major in the medical field to help people like me, i got inspired by twloha but i need votes on this link to get a scholarship. I hope someone reads this to get to my goal. Thank you. Help Max J. win Dr Pepper Tuition http://www.drpeppertuition.com/profile/100003534695250

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  12. confused

    I get the point of this post and it would be wonderful if people could talk about their struggles without prejudice,or without the stigma that you’re messed up just because you have some issues. However in my experience the problem with telling love ones is that they cannot help what they can’t understand and don’t want to either. Needless to say I’ve tried to tell my sister and some friends about my depression and selfharm and let’s just say it didn’t end well instead of getting closer I accomplished the exact opposite. Thankfully I didn’t say that I’ve been thinking about ending my life for quite some time or I am pretty sure I would have never heard from them again. Because people get scared and they don’t know how to react. And not just “normal” people but even physicians specially when they see the scars the face of some of them is priceless they make you feel like a “freak”.so it would be awesome to lift the stigma but unfortunately people are still very affraid. And at least in my experience I learn not to tell anything to anybody other than my therapist and God I’m glad that it has been
    different for other people and that they have found support. And I am also glad for websites like this one because they are doing a great job making you feel that in fact you are not alone, but there’s still way too much work to do to lift the stigma.

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    1. GAD

      I can’t think of words that don’t sound trite but I am sorry for the reactions you have gotten and with a different medical problem I won’t talk about because I was told it wasn’t a problem and just deal with it. Doctor did believe me. I wanted you to know though people near you might not understand or want to talk there are others that will. Sites like this one and AFSP are nice. I shared (not my health issue) but the suicide of my brothers with someone that posted about her brother. We chat privately on facebook ever since and share other things. Friends don’t understand the loss of someone in this way doesn’t go away, it just changes. We support each other when feeling low about anything. We don’t judge. I know it’s not the same as a face to face person but I “listen” and care. I also have a Masters in Psychology. My brothers inspired me. I also wrote and preformed a skit about depression but it leads to more. I presented it at a Toastmaster meeting. It had an impact on them. It doesn’t help with the stigma but does help with not really seeing the person in front of you. I’d post the verbal part but the visual gets a better impact. Your right there is SO much to do to lift the stigma and the stigma in different ways affects those who have tried but it also affects those left behind. Looks, words, questions after loss can make people not want to talk or say how someone died. I decided to fight it head on. I may not be able to “lift the stigma” but I will do what I can to prevent the loss of even a few and work on educating others about the stigma even if it’s only a few. It’s a start. This is my first time on this site so I don’t know if we can chat but I and others will “listen” to you. Before I heard of this site I had tattoo “Live” on my wrist in memory of my brothers. It also has become a source to inform others if they ask about it. YOU ARE NOT A FREAK! Just because those close to you don’t understand doesn’t mean others don’t. I care for those I’ve never seen because I’ve felt what nobody sees.

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    2. Keep trying

      I have told some people about my struggles and dark thoughts. There have been a few who reacted in such a way that I was pushed closer to the edge than ever before. It was all my worst night mares coming true. I didn’t share with people for a long time. I’ve recently met a few people who I told All about me. They reacted wonderfully. They were understanding and compassionate and love me for who I am. I don’t have to hide anymore in front of them. I approach it with a new attitude now. I have scars. Ill wear the short sleeves and you’ll see them. I’m proud that they are now scars and no longer cuts. I’ve survived. I’m celebrating that. You’ll never know who will love you if you keep the real you hidden.

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  13. Sarah

    This post was so good I sent it to my grandmother. She works in Latvia and would like to translate this and pass it out at a conference that is taking place on October 19th. Christmas is coming and the holidays can be a very dark time in third world countries. Latvia is 7th in the world for suicides, per capita. This post sheds light on a dark topic and she believes it would be helpful. Her question is, is this a copywrite artical? If anyone can answer this question for me I would really appreciate it.

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