It’s a sad fact that mental health issues still have an awful lot of stigma attached to them, despite efforts that have been made in the past to change the negative attitudes. Personally, I’ve not experienced much stigma myself because my mental health isn’t something I discuss with people outside my family and close friends.
I shouldn’t have to feel as though I have to hide the fact that I’ve had a psychotic breakdown. I shouldn’t, but I still do, because that’s the way our society seems to have evolved. Mental health issues aren’t talked about even though they should be. We’re almost a decade into the twenty-first century, but the Victorian-era attitudes to mental health still abound.
I can’t quite imagine what it would be like if stigma was outlawed completely. It would be a different world, for certain. A better world? A world without shame? I don’t think even the best fantasy writers could successfully conjure that up, because it’s so far away from where we are now.
The stigma is rather like a vicious circle. It comes about because of ignorance — it’s a facet of human nature to fear things we don’t understand — but because people don’t understand, the fears and misconceptions lead to a situation where it becomes taboo to discuss those things, much less admit to them. If nobody talks about mental health, how can the ignorance and misconceptions be alleviated?
The Time to Change campaign does go quite a distance in challenging ignorance towards mental health issues. It’s hard hitting, to the point, and is backed by well-known celebrities trying bravely to break down the barriers of ignorance by admitting their own battles with mental health issues. But is it enough?
The problem with any campaign is that in a world of freedom and democracy, people don’t have to listen if they don’t want to. Nobody can force them to let go of their misconceptions. Nobody can make them change their prejudices.
Freedom of speech is a bit of a monster in that sense, because despite the Time to Change campaign and the constant battle against stigma, ignorance is still endemic. Until the day some law is passed forcing every citizen to attend some class to debunk their ignorance, stigma is not going to go away. I’m not ashamed of my illness, but the plague of ignorance means I can’t be as honest as I would like.