For years, I have been trying to understand why the stigma around mental illness has been so difficult to eliminate. Trying to make sense of the fact that each and every one of us is connected to mental illness somehow, yet we still run from the idea of saying it out loud. Searching to unravel ways in which we can break it down, piece by piece, so that we can all live freely without stigma. Now, I don’t particularly mean ways in which we can address the outward stigma surrounding mental illness. I’ll leave that to the pros: the amazing organizations, people and campaigns that are already shattering stigma left, right and center.
What I want to do is talk about us, as individuals. As members of the mental health community, we all too often focus on breaking down the stigma around us while we ignore the ways in which we stigmatize our very selves.
What do I mean, exactly? Well, unfortunately, sometimes we can be our own worst enemies. Although we work so hard to challenge stigma-driven behaviour and champion change, why is it that we still feel guilty when we take a day off work, back out of a social engagement, or simply just wake up feeling down?
The long-standing ‘Golden Rule‘ tells us to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. In theory, yes, it makes perfect sense. In practice, though, I think we often do wonderful things unto others but for some reason forget to do those same good deeds unto ourselves.
So, this week, I want to challenge everyone to flip the Golden Rule on its head and look inwards instead of out. Pay attention to those feelings of guilt, regret, and shame that you associate with your own behaviour – the labels that you would never place on others. Give yourself credit, praise yourself for making it through a tough day, and revel in the beauty of what you can do, no matter what it may be. These are some the many kindnesses that we hand out to others in droves, but rarely save for ourselves.
Remove that self-judgment, just as you are non-judgmental with those around you. Do unto yourself as you would have done unto others. Bit by bit, you are giving yourself permission to live freely without stigma, from the inside out.
I have always believed that change starts from within. If we want to take a fresh angle on ending stigma, we can start by treating ourselves the same way as we treat those we love.
About Kathryn Christie
As an HR Consultant with a deep passion for Mental Health, Kathryn spends her days pushing paper and her nights volunteering with the Canadian Mental Health Association as a co-facilitator of the Family and Caregiver Education program. Her passion extends beyond the realm of her volunteer work which has brought her to Healthy Minds Canada to share stories, support and inspiration with her community.