Mental Health: Fighting the Stigmas


Are you suffering from extended periods of emotional pain? Are you reluctant to visit a mental health professional because –

  1. You’re anxious about what your family, friends or neighbors may think?

  2. You know you should be strong enough to get over your emotional pain?

  3. You believe that a mental health professional can’t make a difference in how you feel?

If you answered “yes” to the first question and any of the last three questions, you have been affected by the stigmas relating to mental illness. It’s time to stop letting these stigmas keep you from obtaining the support you need to alleviate your emotional pain.

What is a stigma? A stigma is a judgement upon an individual’s character and, in families and small communities, these judgements can have powerful and sometimes devastating consequences. When a person is in emotional pain, the related stigmas are that the person is weak, has poor life management skills, always angry, a loner, or lacking self-discipline. Sadly, it is very common for people struggling with depression, anxiety or PTSD to be the target of negative attitudes rather than compassion, tolerance and support. Don’t let the stigma of mental illness prevent you from seeking help.

Effects of Mental Health Related Stigmas

  • Social distancing. Depression, anxiety, and other forms of emotional pain often result in avoiding social situations. Social distancing makes the situation much worse. Humans are social animals and need healthy relationships.

  • Lack of understanding. Some people choose to accept the easy judgements and conventional opinions about mental illness rather than investing the time to understand it and find out what is happening with you. Lack of understanding can be invalidating and very painful.

  • Bullying, harassment and avoidance.

  • Health insurance often doesn’t adequately cover the cost of treatment.

  • Belief that your situation will never improve.

  • Reluctance to seek help. As if the stigmas weren’t bad enough, there are co-conspirators such as negative self-talk, fear of gossip and embarrassment that keep people from getting help.

In American society, one of the most oppressive stigmas about depression is the myth that you have the ability to cure yourself if only you’re strong enough, have self-control or work harder. It’s a “cowboy-up”[1] mentality that implies you should be able to fix yourself and it’s not true! Telling someone to “just stop feeling depressed” makes as much sense as telling someone to stop being a diabetic!

For middle-aged men, the prevalent cultural expectation is that they should muscle-through mental illness. Men are expected to be independent and competent; they shouldn’t need to seek help from others. Vulnerability is believed to be a weakness and often results in men concealing their emotions. Men often suffer from the added stress of identification as the “family breadwinner”. During poor economic periods or industrial transitions, the isolation, anxiety and frustration of financial concerns can lead to substance abuse, intense anger and depression. The muscle-through or cowboy-up myth can lead to destructive behaviors and broken families. Wouldn’t it be healthier to fight the stigmas?

How to Fight Stigmas Related to Mental Illness

  1. Don’t let the judgements of others keep you from getting help and building hope. Mental health professionals can make a difference. Treatment can provide relief by assisting in identifying the problem and talking with a professional. The mental health professional may decide that medication is necessary

  2. If you’ve had a bad experience with one profession, go to someone else! Studies have shown that often men may not be treated for depression because clinicians may not recognize depression in men and refer them to appropriate care.[2] Depression screening tools are largely developed using female samples. Please do not give up. Help is available. Depression is treatable!

  3. Recognize that you are not your illness. Do not equate your self-worth with your feelings.

  4. Do not let the stigmas about mental illness create shame and self-doubt. Let your friends, family and mental health professionals help you.

  5. If you aren’t comfortable seeking help locally, contact a professional in the next town, the next county or call a help line. (Please see resources below.)

  6. When you feel strong enough, speak out against the stigmas regarding mental illness. If you hear someone repeating a myth, please don’t be silent. Be kind, but don’t let it slide. Someone else may be suffering and gain strength from your words. You’ll feel even stronger for speaking out against the stigma.

If you don’t feel strong enough to seek help from a mental health professional, consider looking through the stories of people who are successfully managing their mental illness. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has hundreds of personal stories on its website at www.nami.org/personal-stories. You might find a story like yours that will give you strength and hope.

The Madison County Mental Health Advisory Council has compiled a list of mental healthcare professionals, support groups, emergency hotlines, veterans resources and youth services which can be found at the bottom of any web page on www.RVMC.org. There is also a new mental health group in Ennis at the Madison Valley Medical Center on Tuesdays at 6pm. (Enter the Medical Center through the ER and the service is free!) To contact the Montana Suicide Prevention Lifeline, call 800-273-TALK (8255) or text “MT” to 741741.

Mental healthcare is really just healthcare. Talk to someone, see a therapist, make a plan, feel better!

[1] Cowboy-up is when you are injured or down and the prospect of doing whatever it is you’re about to try is so bleak that the best you can hope for is to live through it. – urbandictionary.com

[2] Preventing Suicide among Men in the Middle Years, Suicide Prevention Resource Center, Education Development Center, 2016.

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Sheridan, MT 59749

(406) 842-5453

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