The “Mental” Stigma

Last year I knew someone whom I have chosen not to know any longer. We’ll call him Travis. His friend came by quickly while we were chatting, reeling from a conversation where he claimed he had just been yelled at by a woman who had just told him she didn’t want to see him anymore.

“She’s got that depression thing, you know? She’s mental.” He said this with a wince on his face like he was talking about someone with leprosy, for example.

I looked at Travis and he looked at me. My look was saying “Don’t you dare laugh at me, I know what you’re thinking.” His look was saying to me “I really want to laugh at you right now but don’t want you to punch me in front of my mate.”

I listened to this friend of Travis, and inquired more about his predicament. She had four kids. She was dating him, but he wasn’t very supportive and now he doesn’t know what to do about her because he didn’t want to break up, but she’s got that depression thing. He was out of his element.

He carried on talking about that depression thing. “Those women are crazy, you know?”

At this point Travis did start snickering. Partly because he realised his friend was inevitably about to put his foot in his mouth, partly because he was taking the piss out of me (British term- told you I’d switch back and forth) hinting that I was also “mental.” Jerkface.

I gave him the “Seriously, don’t make me punch you.” look.

I then turned to Gary, Travis’s friend, and began to explain in the gentlest of terms that there are far more people who struggle with depression than he realises, and depression doesn’t mean the same as mental the way he’s saying it.

Upon further pressing, it was clear why she had broken up with him. He had absolutely no understanding of the condition and was talking about it in the most derogatory of ways. I could hardly believe my ears at what ignorance was coming out of this man’s face.

Being the person that I am, I don’t tend to sit back and say nothing when something’s going terribly wrong. In a room full of people where there’s been a request for a volunteer to do something, and no one wants to do it, I’m the one who will put my hand up and get it done. I hate wasting time, energy, and a good opportunity.

To Gary’s surprise, I told him that I, myself, have struggled with depression for quite a long time. I didn’t do anything to cause it, it just was. Would I like to get rid of it? Of course! Who would want to keep something like this? But a sure-fire way of alienating and angering the person who has it is to make them feel like they’re icky because they happen to suffer from it. In the end I told him that after their most recent conversation, it would be best to back off and let her welcome him back on her terms if that’s what she wants to do. At best he could say, “I just want you to know I’m here for you” and BE THERE if she needs him, without judging, or giggling, or cringing.

To be quite frank, it’s not cool to call people mental if they have depression and/or anxiety. It’s also not cool to laugh about them because of it. There is a huge stigma surrounding mental health issues that needs to end. For someone with depression who is already feeling horrible, to see other people joking and laughing about someone else who has this is extremely hurtful. It can cause them to withdraw further and become more afraid to live their lives.

For a person who has never thought about harming themselves, or known what depression or anxiety truly is, I understand that the vantage point they’d own is not one conducive to understanding what it’s like. And that’s okay. It’s okay to not be able to understand. What’s not okay is condemning/ridiculing what you don’t understand. I’d like to think that we’re all generally headed towards getting this concept as a society, but clearly there are plenty of people who aren’t there yet.

As I’ve described in this open letter, our co-humans with adverse mental health conditions just want a little bit of understanding. Less singling-out. Less icky faces when talking about us. Less ignorance. Less stigma.


17 thoughts on “The “Mental” Stigma

  1. Pingback: Being Seen (And the Double-Edged Sword of Beauty) | talkingthisandthat

  2. Well said there is a terrible negative stigma I dealt with it my whole life. But all those people who made fun of me or thought less of me because I was ‘mental’ or Bipolar or had Anxiety think differently now I had 3 Bipolar relapses I fell a few times but I got back up and worked my way back to the top by graduating college, writing 17 books and nearly 600 short stories now. I am open in my stories about my illness and people’s opinions rest with them I focus on what my friends and people who support and care about me think.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: A Letter of Regret From Your Anxious and Depressed Friend | talkingthisandthat

  4. The thing about depression is that it doesn’t discriminate. Mental illness doesn’t discriminate. We are all one misstep from trauma. Anybody can become depressed or anxious. We’re human. It makes no sense to laugh when it could so easily be you.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Hi There,

    I’m truly enjoying the fact that there are similar thoughts and situations experienced by others who are intelligent and have good vocab 🙂 I don’t feel so alone.
    thanks for your blog

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Well said. People really don’t understand the nature of it all. I have friends who’ve seen me struggle for years and have never gotten it. Thank you for putting this out there.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. “I told him that I, myself, have struggled with depression for quite a long time. I didn’t do anything to cause it, it just was. Would I like to get rid of it? Of course! Who would want to keep something like this? But a sure-fire way of alienating and angering the person who has it is to make them feel like they’re icky because they happen to suffer from it.”


    I’m also an “icky,” person, if you will: I’ve got the bipolar type 1: serious manic episodes, rather than depression, mostly; delusions, grandiosity, psychosis. It is horrific at times, causing what my doctor coined as, “trau-manic episodes,” when something happens while I’m so manic it causes trauma.

    When I’m medicated and not enduring mania, I also become depressed, a strong backlash from the manic highs. Sometimes I feel like a failure, as if I allowed this disease to happen. As if?!

    Thank you for standing up to “Travis.” You’re awesome.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Seeing such ‘mental stigma’ in friends and acquaintances hurts, but what’s even worst is seeing it in your own family. Depression and anxiety runs genetically in my mom’s side of the family, and, I’ve inherited both conditions. Unfortunately, my father never understands and always minimizes my pain, because he’s never been through this and neither has he ever dealt with a family member with depression. No matter how many therapists have told him that depression and anxiety attacks are real, he refuses to believe. And that’s incredibly painful. He says Psychiatric meds are for ‘crazy’ people, that it’s all in my head, etc, etc.
    Thank you so much Kirsten for clarifying this matter, I wish more people were more open minded to what we go through on a daily basis.
    By the way, I can’t stop reading your blog! I think I’m going end up reading every single article you’ve ever published!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I’m sorry he’s in such denial. Try “Being Grounded” which talks more about the how and why of panic attacks. It is very hard to deal with family who say it’s not real, but they have some kind of experience that causes them to think that way. It gets better when you spend less time with those who disregard your feelings. The negativity they give off is harmful, but because they’re family it puts you between a rock and a hard place. Personally I’d distance myself from them, but that’s because I’m happier being alone than with people who harm. I have firm boundaries now which unfortunately does mean I’m often lonely and not everyone prefers that.
      Thanks for reading, I’m working on a fable right now to be posted soon. Enjoy and good luck!

      Liked by 1 person

      • After reading these blogs I know I belong here. Every one of these blogs has soothed my soul today. I’m so glad I found you all. It is easy for me to see that we have a great support team. I am healing from a serious PTSD caused from extreme abuse from my ex husband. Sometimes it came without a warning like one night he attacked me while I was sleeping. He is prejudice and I have mixed grandchildren who I am deeply madly in love with. When he drank it was more than he could stand so he would hurt me for it.
        I to prefer to stay out of public places. Only because if someone gets in a fight even a few isles away, I can go into a panic and embarrass myself and whom ever I am alone. The worst panic attack I have had was when my son had a injury during his HS Football game. For 45 min. we did not know if his neck was broken. Thankfully I was not in public I was at a my kids step mothers home with her and one of my stepsons when I got the phone call that my son Corbin had been seriously hurt in the football game he was playing in that night. I went into a panic attack which knocked me down and I went into seizures. They talked me thru it and after a few minutes the seizures went away but I was left with a wild heart rate, sweating, crying and many more symptoms..very scarey.
        After counting my breaths very slowly out load as I repeated the number of breaths Ami was counting. We recieved another phone call with good news that my son Corbin’s neck was not broken and he was able to move. It still took another hour for me to calm down.
        Like you I am Much Happier alone that with people whom harm me. I am sure It sounds silly to the many who do not have a disorder of the mental aspect. My PTSD was brought on by abusive men. I have healed so much, I have a long way to go to be healed however, the progress I have made with the help of a Dr., therapy, medicine and my own focus on healing I have come along way. This is actually the basis of our store. Healing Mind Body Spirit.
        I send all of you Blessings, Safety, being loved exactly as we are and abundance Today.
        1000’s of Blessings to all of you healing from a mental illness.
        Hugs around the circle
        Rebecca Beckam


  9. This reminds me of when I ask people if they’ve seen Birdman. Most people who saw it are all like “yeah it was ok” or “it was over-hyped” But for me I was in tears and thought it was the best movie I’d seen in ages.
    It dawned on me that people who haven’t had a run-in with depression don’t get it as much as people who have. And like you said, That’s OK.
    It’s only thought talking about it, that we will reduce stigma for those who don’t. So thanks for your contribution to the conversation! Loved the post. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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