The Stigma of Talking About Your Mental Illness
Growing up, my family always had a stigma over mental health. I grew up believing therapy was for “crazy people” and that if you feel depressed or anxious, you should just spend more time with your friends or go do something outside instead of taking medication or talking to a therapist. I was also reminded to be careful not to overshare my thoughts and feelings because according to my parents, “nobody wants to hear about your problems, everyone has them, so don’t be so sensitive.”
In high school, I started to develop generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). I started struggling with negative self-talk, confidence issues, and constant excessive worrying. Whenever I brought any of this up to my parents, my mom would tell me to “get over it” and my dad would just fall silent. I learned to just bottle up those feelings, thinking no one would listen. I began to see myself as weak and sensitive, all the things my mother told me not to be.
Things got progressively worse throughout my high school years. During my senior year, I decided to go talk to my doctor. She diagnosed me with GAD and prescribed medication. When my parents found out, they tried to convince me that I didn’t need it; that it was all in my head. But I fought back, and things got slightly better after I started taking medication.
Not being able to confide in my parents about my anxiety early on made it very difficult for me to navigate the rest of my high school and my college years. I was terrified of talking to friends or boyfriends or teachers about it because I was afraid they would reject or scold me. Over time though, with the help of therapy, I slowly realized that those closest to me wanted to know what was going on with me. When I gently brought up things that were on my mind, I was met with compassion and sympathy, rather than the judgement I had feared and expected. I learned that there would always be someone there to listen to me, and that there’s no shame in being vulnerable.
What has your experience been in bringing up issues that are bothering you to those you’re closest to? Does your family have a stigma against mental illness? If so, how did it affect you?