Is there a stigma surrounding mental health?
While great strides have been made over the past 70 years, I believe a stigma still remains surrounding mental health. I have spent the last 3 years in the Master of Social Work program at the University of Texas at Arlington, with a concentration in mental health and substance misuse. I entered this program for two reasons: 1) to help my brain heal from the TBI I experienced and 2) to ultimately provide pro-bono mental health services to veterans on a part-time basis…my give-back for this last chapter of my life.
During my tenure at UTA, my experiences, biases, knowledge, and beliefs surrounding mental health have been challenged. My shame over my personal mental health challenges has been obliterated and this is perhaps the greatest gift I have received from the program. For if I cannot view myself without condemnation, how can I possibly view another as whole, perfect, or worthy? For everything I perceive outside of me is merely a reflection of what is going on within me and this holds true for all of us.
Every moment of every day we are creating our reality through the stories we are telling ourselves. We give meaning to our experiences and label them as either good or bad and we deem ourselves worthy, or not, and we look upon another with the same sense of judgement. How often do I look upon myself with compassion or grace? For it is certain that if I cannot extend compassion to myself, I cannot extend compassion to you.
One would think that if someone experiences mental health challenges then their ability to view others from a lens of understanding and support would be a standard response. Right? Because if we know what it is like to live with mental health challenges, then our ability to have compassion for another would be profound. Right? Hmmm…. The problem with this premise is this…if I judge myself harshly for having mental health challenges, then I will judge you harshly as well. I cannot give you what I am not giving myself.
Love your neighbor as yourself implies that in order to be compassionate to our neighbor, we must first be compassionate to ourselves.
So by changing my world view or perspective of mental health and removing my personal stigma, I have risen above my challenges and become the change that I want to see in the world. I have acknowledged that my bias towards mental health…my label as bad…was the catalyst for viewing myself as flawed and broken. It kept me in the shadows…separate from my fellow travelers in this time and space…alone and suffering. And if I encountered another who, like me, was suffering, a barrier would appear which only further extended my separateness and my suffering.
So how did I get from there to here, to a place of peace and presence? How did I reclaim my dignity and sense of well-being and wholeness? Actually, it was quite simple although not at all easy for this journey of healing has meandered and spanned 3 decades. It required that I take responsibility for my thoughts, feelings, and choices. It required that I extend compassion and grace to myself and acknowledge that my mental health challenges do not define me as a person. Rather, they are merely opportunities to ask…what is the story I am telling myself? Is it true? Is it based in reality? Is it a reflection of my authentic self?
As I have removed the stigma surrounding mental health in my life and shifted my perspective and paradigm, I can now see the possibility of a collective change in our consciousness, where everyone has a part in removing the stigma of mental health. We can all be the change we want to see in the world and create, as Jeremy Rifkin says, an empathic civilization. How? When we say…I will love you well...first to ourselves and then to our fellow travelers in this time and space.
From my heart to yours,
Dayton ~ the holistic wellness coach