Things You Don’t Know About Stigma

Have you ever wondered how stigma evolves?  No, I’m not talking about that sticky stem that attracts pollen and bees in the centre of flowers, but rather, the negative beliefs and attitudes that can build prejudice and stereotypes, especially with mental health illness.  

Evolution of Stigma

Stigma evolves through fear or lack of understanding. If we don’t understand or fear something, we tend to cling on to snippets of information that we pick up from other people, on TV, or have read somewhere. These snippets are often mistruths and can cause great harm – even death.  This quote by Bernard Shaw perfectly sums it up.

Stigma Can Cause Death

Did you know that men are three times more likely to end their lives than women? This is because the stigma of mental health is worse for men than it is for women. There has been an era of ‘big boys don’t cry’ – they need to man up and cope!  This causes them to ignore or try and hide their mental health problems and not seek the support and care that they so deserve.  

If you would like to read more, here’s an interesting article on toxic masculinity and its effects on mental health.

https://www.healthline.com/health-news/how-can-we-reduce-mens-mental-health-stigma#The-stigma-men-face

The judgement of men’s mental health issues is so wrong; there is no differing with equality when it comes to men and women suffering appendicitis or heart disease, is there? Nor should there be when it comes to mental health.

What’s the Answer?

The brain is such a complex organ and the effects of all those zillions of little neurons on our mind is an ongoing struggle that even the best psychiatrists claim they will never fully understand. So how can we possibly be expected to understand?

This very dilemma is why I go out and share my story; it is why I wrote Catch Me if I Fall.  I believe that by sharing personal experiences we can help to educate others on various mental health conditions and perhaps help people change their perception and understanding.  Where there may have been judgement and fear before, there can be kindness and compassion. Every person’s experience of mental health illness is important, and deserves to be heard. 

A Tale of Self-Stigma

I would like to give you a ‘perfect’ example of stigmatising.

When I was a girl, I went to an all-girls school in Surrey.  On the perimeter of the grounds there was a psychiatric hospital, or, as we called it back then, a ‘loony bin’.

When a siren sounded it meant that one of the patients had escaped and the gossip and fear mongering that spread around the school was terrifying.

By the time I stood at the school gate at the end of the day, I feared for my life. I believed some lunatic was out to get me and I would have a panic attack whilst waiting for my lift. I had listened to gossip and believed that all people in ‘loony hospitals’ were completely crazy and scary.  Little did I know that I myself, would be a patient in one in my mid-forties.  

Thankfully the hospitals have improved since my youth, and are not the dark stone-walled asylums some of us picture.  Even so, it was not a pleasant experience and one I hope never to experience again. Not so much because of the place, but more because of how unwell I was at the time.

None of us know what is around the corner, and for all you know, you, or somebody you know, may require to be in a psychiatric hospital one day for their mental illness.

Stamp on Stigma

Stigma is a two-way thing. We need to take steps to break it down, but those who face such stigma also need to be brave and face it when possible.  I ultimately faced mine when I wrote my memoir, and it certainly wasn’t easy.

If you would like to know more about this dilemma and how the stigma that silenced me for over twenty-five years was finally broken, here’s a link to a recent blog I wrote:   

https://nikkirodwell.co.uk/the-hardest-part-of-writing-my-memoir%EF%BF%BC/

Making a Difference

I have my first ‘in person’ speaking event at a venue in Great Yarmouth next week.  The speech is entitled ‘Stamp on Stigma’ and involves revealing the truth about my past mental health difficulties and the horrific circumstances that surround my ordeal in 2019.  I am nervous, and can’t quite believe that after being silenced by stigma for more than half my life, I will find myself in front of a room full of strangers talking about  my personal struggle with psychosis. 

But this is the way forward, I believe. One person sharing their story, can hopefully have a huge impact on others.

If you would like to join a community of those who stand up to stigma, please feel free to request to join our facebook group:

1 Comment

  1. Alexandria Szeman on May 16, 2022 at 7:30 pm

    Excellent piece, Nikki. When I was young and told people my father, stepfather, and mother were sexually abusing me, my family told me that if I didn’t keep my mouth shut, they’d put me in “State” (the state mental institution), feared because of all the suicides that happened there. Stigma is so horrible.

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