Ending Stigma: It's okay not to be okay
My name is Kristine. I am a 24 year old student at the University of Alberta. When I was 22 my life was strongly impacted by being told that I had bipolar disorder.
One thing I’ve learned since being diagnosed with bipolar disorder is that the words we use to talk about mental health have a powerful influence on the stigma surrounding mental illness.
Hearing someone say “she’s bipolar” feels like a weight pressing down on my shoulders. “Being bipolar” is a strong label to carry around, and it makes me feel like I am being told that I am a lesser person. Having to change the way my daily life is lived because of a diagnosis is enough of a challenge without feeling like others believe that I’ll never accomplish much.
I’m very careful to say that I have bipolar and not that I am bipolar; there is a distinct difference between having and being. It’s not someone’s fault that they struggle with their mental health; no one chooses to have a mental illness.
It’s important to separate the person from the illness because no one should be defined by one facet of themselves. Everyone consists of many traits and interests, and I think of myself as a student, a friend, a movie lover, or a dancer, before thinking of myself as someone who has bipolar.
One of my favourite things to do is to tell someone that I have bipolar disorder. I like to see their face light up with confusion as they say, “Really? You? I never would have guessed.” I take this as an accomplishment; I’m defeating the stigma of someone with bipolar and hope that it affects how they view those will mental illness in the future.
I enjoy casually talking about mental health, as if I were talking about having a cold or a getting coffee. Every time I mention my mental health struggles, at least one person shares that they have them too, or that they have a loved one who struggles as well.
I think that talking about mental health issues is beneficial in making mental illness seem less scary, and to normalize the idea that it is okay to not be okay. I believe that the stigma surrounding mental health could be reduced if more people looked at it this way.
What do you think are some other ways that you can help end the stigma?