In today’s world, mental illness is still, unfortunately, stigmatized. While there is a movement to reduce stigma, we still have a long way to go. It may surprise you, but some of the biggest culprits of fearing and having preconceptions about mental illness are those who have it. I wish I could wave a magic wand and make stigma disappear, but since I can’t, those of us who are knowledgeable must do our part to educate and empower others.
Stigma as a Barrier to Getting Help
Having biases when it comes to mental illness can be dangerous. If you find that you are experiencing symptoms of schizophrenia, your prejudices may prevent you from getting the help you need. You may fear what’s happening to you, or being given a terrible prognosis, or that you’ll be labeled and judged as a “schizophrenic.” These fears often get in the way of people getting the help they need, until the symptoms become worse and more difficult to manage. Every person’s experience with schizophrenia is different, so don’t assume the worst. Schizophrenia is a manageable illness, and eliminating your own stigma and early intervention are key to taking control of your life and finding inner peace.
If you believe you are experiencing symptoms of schizophrenia, talk to a psychiatrist or mental health professional about what you are experiencing. Hearing voices or hallucinating for the first time doesn’t necessarily mean you have schizophrenia. Depression, bipolar disorder, and traumatic brain injury, as well as other illnesses, can also be linked to these symptoms, so it’s important you talk to a professional first.
If you are diagnosed with schizophrenia, remember that you aren’t defined by your mental illness. Instead, you “suffer from,” “experience,” or are “diagnosed with” it, but it is NOT you or who you are. All people are multifaceted and complex, including those with mental illness. You do not have to fear what you are experiencing, just learn how to deal with it and reframe your reality and expectations. You’ll most likely have to make adjustments to your daily life, but setting aside your fears will help you maintain control. Your brain, a physical organ, is impacted, just like other organs can be when we talk about other medical conditions. When issues arise with other organs, those problems aren’t stigmatized, so mental illness shouldn’t be either.
Advocacy as a Tool For Reducing Stigma
One of the most powerful tools to get the best support and to reduce stigma in society and within your circle is advocacy. When you speak up for yourself and voice your feelings, concerns, hopes, and fears, you are not only empowering yourself, but educating your friends and family. Reducing stigma is not just about you, but all of the people in your life. Reducing stigma starts with you. Letting your fear, ignorance, and symptoms take over is giving into the stigma, labels, and misunderstandings.
When advocating for yourself, your goal isn’t to change others’ minds, but to deliver your message. You can’t control how other people react, feel, or behave, so adjust your expectations to reflect that. You are, however, in control of your own attitudes and behaviors. Being self aware and paying attention to what you are experiencing will help you better understand yourself, what you’re going through, and how to take control of your life. Allow people you trust to make observations on how you impact the world around you to give you more insight. If you’re hearing voices, actively challenge those voices. Remember you’re in charge. You can either give your symptoms power or you don’t give them power, as you can always take the power away. The greater level of control you have over your own thoughts, the more you’ll be able to advocate for yourself and reduce the stigma of mental illness. While it is not your job to be an advocate for mental illness for all of society, advocating for yourself will encourage those around you to alleviate their biases and fears to ultimately help you get the support you need.
Therapy is a great way for you to learn more about yourself and how to take control of your thoughts and feelings. Dr. Heather Violante is a specialist in empowering those with schizophrenia so they can find inner peace. If you are having a difficult time taking back control, advocating for yourself, or getting the support you need, contact her today to learn how you can become more self-empowered.