Stigma is defined as “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.”
Mental Health is an area that has been weighed down by stigma. People are so worried that others may judge them that they refuse to seek help OR if they do get help, they will hide it. There is a huge fear of what others will think if you are suffering from a mental health issue such as depression or anxiety.
We would never be afraid to tell someone if we’d broken our leg or if we had the flu. These are illnesses and disorders as well. But when it comes to our mental health, it becomes a dirty little secret.
Why is it so hard to say, “I am seeing a psychologist”?
Why is it so hard to say, “I am depressed”?
Let me tell you why it was so hard for me…
The stigma is different for each person, but for me it stemmed from two things.
Number One… I am in the military.
The military never made it hard for me to get help, but I fed into the stigma that having issues with my mental health would make it too hard to do my job.
I feared I would lose my security clearance and that they would not let me fly. I feared that my team would lose trust and respect for me. I believe this is probably the same for first responders and rescue forces. You have to be mentally strong if you are going to act fast in high stress situations. So I tried to hide it.
It took me years to realize that being depressed or anxious never made me slow or weak. What hindered me from doing my job to the best of my ability was NOT GETTING HELP!!! Imagine you have a broken foot, but you never go to the hospital. You are never going to do your job well or even live your life to its fullest potential, because you will be in constant pain. BUT if you’d gone to the hospital and gotten a cast, it would heal and you’d be back in action afterwards. Your mental health is the same. Recovery may slow you down or take you out of the game, but it is (most likely) only temporary.
Number Two… I am a woman.
As a woman, we are often told that we are weaker and more emotional by nature. Also linked to being in the military, I felt like I had to hide anything that makes me more feminine. That meant that I couldn’t be depressed or anxious because (I believed) no one else was depressed or anxious. For 15 years, I hid any issue that I had as much as I could. It created many more issues in my personal life and at work, but I was an expert at hiding it and I was really good at my job, so luckily, I never messed anything up enough to get anyone hurt…. BUT I could have hurt someone AND I could have been so much better at my job if I had taken care of myself. I always thought it was just me and that I needed to hide it… or “fake it to make it.” That no one else was as weak as I was.
Two years ago, one of the men from my unit commit suicide. It was the 2nd suicide in two years and I knew I needed help. I made my first appointment with my current Psych Doc and it was the BEST decision of my career and my life. I was a sponge trying to figure out what was wrong with me and how to “fix my crazy”! Eventually, I started to tell my co-workers one at a time and I learned that while some weren’t getting help, most were suffering in silence as I had. I was confronted with the stigma for the first time. Previously it had been there, but I never noticed it fully. Like breathing… you know you do it, but rarely consider it.
So now… I am transparent. I have depression. I have anxiety. I have post-traumatic stress. I have told pieces of my story to almost every person I know. I am not afraid to tell anyone that I see my psych doc. I will sing her praises and I will let people know when I try other forms of treatment as well. Full disclosure, I see her at least twice a month. My unit is aware and I have never lost my clearance or flight status. I even deployed. The fear slowed me down, but it was unfounded and driven by that stigma.
I will share my insecurities and my fears. And why will I do this?
It is purely selfish… Every time I share my story, I get something from it. Sometimes I learn something new... sometimes the person I share with has been through something similar.
Each time I share my story, I feel less trapped by my mental health. I feel more in control.
SO, share your story and help to end the stigma… A Little Bit More.
Below is an article about the changes that occur in the brain. This is a sign that mental health and physical health are linked. Your brain changes when you deal with trauma or suffer from depression. There is a physical injury that IS in your head…. But it’s not “all in your head”. You can recover, but you do not need to “just get over it…”
“Changes in the brain's structure that could be the result of depression have been identified in a major scanning study.”
The stigma around speaking about mental health is often more dangerous than the disorders themselves. The stigma prevents those who need help from getting it. If someone broke their arm they would be expected to go to the doctor for help; so why do we expect people suffering mentally to heal themselves? Learn to treat Mental Health like any other injury. Make time to help the ones you care about and help them when they need you.
If you need help call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline Phone Number 1-800-273-8255
Reach out when you see someone who may be in need.
A Little Bit More About Amy:
Amy Long is originally from California, but currently lives in Omaha, Nebraska. She in a member of the United States Air Force and works as a Base Wounded Warrior Advocate. Her career in the military gave her many opportunities to travel and see the world and for that she is grateful. She also had the opportunity to get her BS in Psychology and will apply to Graduate School to complete her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology.
Over the years, Amy fought to "get over it" alone and suffered the consequences that came with not listening when friends and family suggested she seek help. This was a hard lesson to learn, but now she works to recover from her invisible wounds and to teach others that you do not harm yourself by reaching out... You harm yourself by NOT reaching out for help.
Amy is proudly recovering from PTS, Depression, and Anxiety. This is not something that just disappears, but with help she is finding her "new normal" and regaining the independence that comes from analyzing and getting to know yourself through therapy.
For peer support and motivation visit her other Social Media pages for more information: