The Stigma of Mental Health: Why We Blame Ourselves

living with mental Illness illustration
New Directions Staff

Mental illness and the stigma that comes with it are some of the most difficult struggles for young adults today. So many deal with depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and other mental issues, and more often than not, we are ashamed to admit it. And even if we have, even if the entire world knows, we still blame ourselves for not being strong enough, not being good enough to always keep the effects of it at bay.

It’s difficult to recognize, especially to ourselves, that our mental illnesses are not our fault. Even more so, it is difficult to admit when we can’t stop the symptoms or occasional complications as a result. We want to stop it—need to stop it in order to feel that we are in control. It is, after all, our mind, isn’t it? Why can’t we control what we are going to do, or how we feel? We don’t want to admit that sometimes, it is out of our control.

In an article titled Retreat Not Defeat: Self-Stigma and Mental Health, author Marisa Lancione suffers with her own mental health disorders, and points out the way most of us unreasonable feel:

“We often speak of stigma in terms of external judgment—how others perceive those with mental illness. But a form of stigma we don’t often talk about is the self-imposed stigma. Will I get fired for taking a leave of absence? Will I be given less interesting projects because they’re less stressful? Will they think I’m less capable because of my illness? Do my colleagues think I’m lazy and just don’t want to work? Are people whispering about the crazy girl who had a breakdown? I am so consumed by thoughts about what other people might be thinking about me, I neglect what’s most important—what I think and need.”

We all do. We tell those close to us, “No, I’m okay,” because we want to be okay. We’ve taken the steps, we’ve done the therapy, gotten on the medication, done what we can—we shouldn’t be dealing with any more complications, right?

Wrong. The illness is still there, will always be there—and that’s okay. Every now and then, we can take a step back, we can recognize that, for a small time, we need to give ourselves extra care, and then move forward again.

“I haven’t surrendered to my illness,” Lancione wrote, “I’ve just retreated. No general would continue when the battle is surely lost. A general would regroup, tend to the wounded, gather reinforcements, and re-strategize. And that’s all I’m doing. I may have lost this battle, but there’s still a war to win.”