More work must be done to remove stigma from mental health issues

The second shot of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine eased into my arm with no effects. I went back to work and had a regular day.

Then there was Day Two. I experienced fatigue, low-level body aches, and a general feeling of “blah.” Simple tasks seemed to take an enormous amount of effort and energy. Leaving work early, I went home and slept for 12 hours.

When I woke, I felt normal again and relieved that the one, bothersome day of vaccine side effects was over.

That was a while ago. But I still think about Day Two because it showed me—at least for a day—what many people with untreated depression, anxiety or a bipolar disorder may suffer on a lot of days.   

The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that about 20% of adults experience mental illness each year and that only about half receive treatment. Other sources report higher percentages.

No matter which numbers are used, they’re big. A major, contributing factor is that many are fearful of the stigma and being perceived negatively by society.

Which is strange. Because this country is a nation of second chances in so many ways. In sports, we root for the underdog. In politics, we call someone who bounces back as the “comeback kid.” In business, we admire the “Steve Jobs effect.” In finance, bankruptcy courts give individuals a path to build wealth again. In prison, inmates are offered rehabilitation programs. And many people find love again, after a loss.

But when an individual feels persistent fatigue, sadness, anger, loss of energy, an inability to focus, restlessness, anxiety, irritability, or a sense of hopelessness—all things that can be treated with medication and/or counseling—too many with mental health issues won’t give themselves the second chance they deserve because of stigma concerns.

Treatments work, and individuals can feel better.

People with mental health issues, though, aren’t idiots. By following the Britney Spears conservatorship story, they know that even a platinum-selling superstar can get derailed over a mental health episode. It’s actually quite rational for the average person struggling with depression, anxiety, or a bipolar disorder to believe that society, or the system, will not be kind to them either.

Public service messages promise people with mental health issues that there is no stigma in getting help. Meanwhile, the nightly news carries the continuing saga of a talented and successful pop star who cannot reclaim her life because of a past mental health issue.

Both things can’t be true. It’s not enough to say there’s no stigma in getting help for a mental health issue when we have continued Britney stories. We don’t have access to her medical records, but someone who has been fully self-supporting for several years should at least get a second look on whether a conservatorship must continue.  

The National Alliance on Mental Illness makes several suggestions for helping to reduce stigma.

Talk openly about mental health. More influential people, like Olympic athletes Simone Biles and Michael Phelps, are going public with their personal struggles. If individuals with depression, anxiety or a bipolar disorder can see that they’re not alone, they may be more willing to seek help themselves.

Educate ourselves and others about the topic. Be a mental health myth-buster, when possible.  

And be conscious of language. Words matter. It’s surprising how many news outlets used the word, “meltdown,” to describe the Britney event. 

In a way, I’m thankful for my Day Two vaccine symptoms. It gave me a greater understanding of what others are feeling, far too often.

If you’re going through a mental health issue right now, seek treatment and know that enough will admire your courage to choose to live a better life.    

2 thoughts on “More work must be done to remove stigma from mental health issues

  1. Very well written. It’s defeating when there are no 2nd chances. It’s a wonder why people don’t come forward. Depression is crippling


    • Thanks Karen. I’m a born optimist so it’s been hard to imagine what depression can feel like. I think I caught a glimpse of it when I had a day of heavy fatigue after getting the vaccine. Got me thinking about what others go through all the time.


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