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“I don’t feel good”: When Shame Surrounds Mental Illness

Written by: Arielle Karoub

Someone who has a mental illness can have good days, but they also have really bad days, when it can be very difficult to function. The bad days are what people don’t like to talk about, so the person with mental illness may cover it up by saying, “I don’t feel good” or “I’m feeling under the weather” when in reality, if they were given a chance to voice their concerns, they would actually say, “this is really tough, I’m not sure how I can go on” or“my symptoms are so out of control, it’s difficult to function.”  Sometimes it’s easier for someone with mental illness to say a blanket statement to make everyone around them feel more “comfortable” about the situation.  

It’s interesting how people find it easy to criticize and judge when it comes to mental health, but find it difficult to have a candid conversation with someone that they care for about their struggles. 

Research shows that the most common mental disorder is anxiety. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorders represent 4% of the U.S. population. If you think about it, this means, that on average, out of every 100 people you pass on the street, four of them are likely to have an anxiety disorder. The proper diagnosis is called generalized anxiety disorder and it’s a chronic condition causing ongoing worry, indecision, nervousness, muscle tension, and other physical signs. Without proper treatment, anxiety can lead to variety of other illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, thyroid problems, respiratory disorders, and many more. With common mental disorders like anxiety, individuals still don’t seek help. But, why?  

The Presence of Stigma 

There is such a powerful stigma around getting help for a mental disorder. Most people still hold on to inaccurate and stigmatizing stereotypes towards people with mental illness. People are led by fear of what others will say or think of them. But no one seems to care if you tell them that you have diabetes or another physical health condition—they want you to get help, like right away! So, what’s the difference between that and getting help for research driven, proven facts, and mental disorders that need proper treatment?   

Research shows that 60% of people continue to believe that individuals with mental illness are violent. Social media doesn’t help paint a positive image of individuals with mental illness and often categorizes them as dangerous. Stigma breeds shame. Shame to seek help. Shame to have candid conversations about how you are actually feeling.  

The general “wisdom” from generations ago suggests that you don’t talk about mental health issues because of the false idea that talking about it makes it worst or causes a mental health disorder. The truth is, its healthy to talk about it; to talk about the truth.  

Families Should Talk About Mental Health 

Particularly in families, it actually helps to talk about what’s going on and identify mental illness, especially with children. Children need to know that their parents accept and support them for who they are, even if the child has a mental illness. Children also need to know if their parent has a mental illnesshow to understand their behaviors, and how to build a bridge of communication. Studies have shown that parents who talk about their mental illness with their children will provide them with a sense of relief and decreases the child’s longer-term psychological difficulties.  

Let’s work together to reduce the enormous stigma that hinders people from getting help for their mental health disorders. We need to raise awareness together that it is okay to take on a wellness approach and seek treatment. We need to educate the public on the variety of mental illnesses that exist and how they affect different populations. We need understanding and patience from our loved ones.  

What You Can Do 

When talking about breaking stigma, it’s important to know that there are things that you as an individual can do to help others with mental illness. Allow people the space to talk about their problems. Offer support and connect others to helpful resources. Change your language surrounding mental health. Advocate for policy change. Share your story.  

If you don’t know where to start in your own journey to recovery, you can join one of NAMI’s free support groups or attend an educational class to learn more about mental illness and available resources. Remember, you are not alone. NAMI is here to help! 


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