*(The examples provided below are composite cases, synthesizing disguised information and not any patient in particular)*
Oftentimes, conversations about mental health stigma focus solely on public and systemic discrimination and how they influence societal responses — however, what happens when that stigma lies in your own living room? How do you address your own mental health needs when you may be in a situation where those around you do not understand? Some individuals in this position have found it easier to cope in silence, rather than to vocalize their experiences and stories. Yes, by doing so, you may be able to maintain your normal family dynamic, but what about you and your needs?
Fundamentally speaking, most families desire stability, and yours may be no different. Historically, many cultures were founded on norms of collectivism to feel safe and protected — harmonious. For instance, cultures in Asia, Central America, South America, and Africa tend to hold onto more communal values. Discussing mental health can be taboo or neglected in other cultures as it strays from the collective mindset. It is definitely a sensitive topic.
Moreover, there are a few important things to note about mental health stigma. First, it typically develops when people view situations that others experience as something that could never be confronted first-hand. Secondly, stigma usually transpires through the fear of the unknown. Sometimes our family members may not be as educated on mental health as we are. Therefore, it’s important to recognize two ways to address familial stigma against mental health: be outspoken about your struggle to not only relate these issues within your family setting, but to also educate them about your own mental health journey to raise awareness on an issue that millions of people are treating.
You may also find comfort in opening up to your family by knowing that society has recently shifted towards a more vocal and expressive world within the last decade. It was once unprecedented that A-list celebrities even dared to share their mental health struggles. Yet, social media introduced platforms where people can share their diverse stories and experiences, and grow from them as well. Not only that, mental health support has progressed in so many ways within the last year: becoming more accessible through telehealth visits, being more affordable, and adopting more individualized and unique approaches perfect for you.
Nowadays, the term “mental health” encompasses even far more than just the treatment of severe mental illnesses, but rather the care of our entire well-being. Talk of mental health has become revolutionary.
You may now find yourself wondering what it would look like to address the mental health stigma within your own family setting. Just keep in mind that although their beliefs may be rooted in traditions or cultural values, the foundation may simply revolve around fear of the unknown. Misunderstandings prove there is potential for reasoning and understanding. More importantly, although not all families are able to understand our needs, that doesn’t mean you can’t find the support you seek from others. It is time to look introspectively and observe your own needs. In doing so, you choose empowerment. Ultimately, although your family may not fully understand your struggle right now, taking that first step towards conversation and vulnerability can lead you to obtain the treatment and acceptance that you deserve.
Author: Anton Babushkin, PhD, LMSW
Therapist & Start My Wellness CEO