End the Stigma: Mental Health & Shame

anxiety mental health relationships social change wellbeing Mar 23, 2023
End the shame of Mental Health problems

NB: Mental health refers to a person's psychological well-being, encompassing emotional, cognitive, and social functioning. We all have "mental health". Good mental health enables coping with stress, forming relationships, and achieving goals, while poor mental health can lead to mental health disorders.

In this post, "mental health problems" refer to difficult experiences that make it harder for us to get on with life as normal. This includes day-to-day feelings through to mental health disorders.


Acknowledging the Shame

When I was first diagnosed with depression in my early 20's, I scurried from the doctors office to the pharmacy like a spy on a mission, sliding my prescription face down across the counter to the pharmacist like an secret message. 

I scanned her face as she read it over, watching for acknowledgement that I was indeed... a few sandwiches short of a picnic. 

Taking my anti-depressants felt like a scene from 'Girl, Interrupted' and I told almost no one, and if I did, I'd quickly reminded them I wasn't crazy, I'll "get over it" soon. I told myself to "power on" through. 

I constantly thought I was "one good sleep" away from being *alright* again. I just needed to meditate more, maybe switch up my mindset. "It's just a bad mood that'll pass soon".

In reality, it was only the beginning. 

I felt alone, ashamed and like a failure. Shame didn't cause my depression, but it made it so, so much worse. 

Shame is a powerful and destructive force that can prevent us from seeking the support we need. It can lead to downplaying symptoms and a vicious cycle of increasingly negative emotions, self-doubt, and isolation - all of which can exacerbate mental health problems, making it even harder to seek help.


Haven't we moved on?

In short: no.

While significant progress has been made in recent years, mental health remains stigmatised in our society - even the more holistic conversations about it. People who face problems with their mental health are often left feeling broken and alone.

The research is there too: a study published in the Journal of Health and Social Behaviour found that shame is a significant barrier to seeking mental health treatment, especially for men (who represent two thirds of suicide rates worldwide).

According to a survey by the American Psychological Association, 1 in 3 adults with mental health issues report feeling ashamed, embarrassed, or like a failure because of their condition.

Our culture is soaked in it. How many ignorant influencers have you heard dismissing depression as a weak mentality? Or podcast hosts touting how they'd just "exercise more" if they were depressed?

Despite these parrotings sounding utterly ridiculous to anyone who's ever gone ten rounds with their own mind or done any serious research, it breeds stigma, misinformation and shame. These narratives are never harmless nor easy to dismiss.

But these people are often in positions of perceived authority; where it used to be those with real knowledge, like a doctor, it's now large online followings (the more polarising opinions the "better"), making money and... behind a mic. All this "authority" in a world that's never prioritised a real sense of wellbeing, or emotional, mental and physical health. Nice.

If you've ever faced challenges with your mental health, you likely know this. The shame and stigma surrounding mental health prevent people from seeking the support they need. That is a fact. This has a knock on effect that can worsen depression, anxiety, and even lead to suicide. Fact.


So, what can we do about it?

In case no one's told you, while you may not have a YouTube channel or preach to a online army, your voice matters. A lot.

Promoting mental health awareness and education happens on a social level, creating more supportive and understanding communities that encourage people to seek help when they need it. Normalising mental health problems to the same degree we view a broken bone.

 So, here's a few ways you can help break the stigma:


  1. Go Professional

     Change starts with you and how you view your mental health. It's all well and good encouraging others, but leading by example is the way forward.

    Mental health professionals are trained to help people manage their mental health, any symptoms and improve their overall quality of life. By seeking professional support, you actively show yourself and others that you take your mental health seriously, alongside learning coping strategies and getting the treatment you need when you need it. 

    The knock on effect? The more seriously you take it, the more passionate you're likely to become. Once you see how heavily woven mental health is to life, it's impossible to unsee.

  2. Share Your Story

     Speaking honestly about your mental health care and any struggles not only helps to reduce stigma but can build connections with others and normalise the subject - it's also one of the best ways to encourage others to seek help. (of course, only share what you feel comfortable with)

    People facing mental health problems don't need pity, but support instead. Feeling more human, that they're not alone in their experience and are capable of seeking support is empowering.

    Sharing doesn't have to be about the deeper details either, you're required to jump on a stool and preach about your darkest days - but you can if you want. Even comments such as "exercise really helps manage my anxiety" or "when I went though a tough patch with my mental health, I started therapy and it made me feel a lot less alone" can be enough to hint that "hey, this is a normal thing". Never underestimate the impact of casual remarks

  3. Support Others

    Show empathy and support to those who are struggling with mental health issues, even when you're not sure what they're going through. Instead of waiting for people to tell you what's going on, observe behaviours such as low mood or irritable outbursts with grace. Sometimes people don't even recognise when they're in a tough spot.

    By creating a culture of acceptance and understanding, we can help reduce shame and stigma. Feeling less judged can make it easier for people to open up and recognise what they may be struggling with.

    Rather than insisting someone seek support, share your own stories and connect with them as human beings. This is one of the most powerful ways shame is broken.

  4. Get Visible

    Whether it's in comment sections or correcting misinformation in front of you, proactively calling people out for blatant lies and harmful media has it's place.

    While no one's encouraging you to get into full blown fights, (which arguably isn't good for mental health), you never know who's watching or listening that it can help. Countering misinformation won't make it go away, but it can provide an alternative narrative to others or encourage someone to think twice before flippantly dismissing serious issues as "weakness". 

    This is where furthering your mental health awareness and education can become invaluable, as you pass your knowledge on.The goals isn't to shame or offend others, it's to be an advocate for change and be visably doing so.


Moving Forward.

Good mental health care is fundamental to living a healthy, happy and fulfilling life. As scary, "unknown" and uncomfortable as mental health problems can be, pushing them down and away doesn't solve them.

Breaking the stigma of shame surrounding mental health starts with changing the narrative. When shared, everyday mental health problems can become more normalised, meaning people seek support sooner before symptoms worsen.

By talking more openly about our mental health care and problems, seeking professional help, and supporting others who are going through similar experiences we move toward a society that doesn't see weakness when it comes to mental health problems, but instead the very human experience and potential to learn, grow and evolve. 


If you, or someone you know would like to better explore mental health care or get support, book in with Preeti Bath, our resident Therapist at The Heart Led, for a free no pressure discovery call to see how she can help.

>> Click here to book now <<

Learn more about Preeti Bath here


Got thoughts on this post or a subject you'd like me to cover? Pop me a message here.

Stay gorgeous,


Want more regular-ish goodness?

Sign up for more ADHD, anxiety & relationship emails plus be the first to hear of offers and more!

We hate SPAM. We will never sell your information, for any reason.