What does mental illness look like? Is it the man standing on the street corner talking to himself? Is it the woman huddled on the couch all day, or the prisoner pacing his small cell? Let us refocus. What if it is your extroverted coworker, or your son’s energetic football coach? What if it is the calm, well dressed person sipping coffee next to you at the coffee shop? It can be all these people, but we often just don’t see it. They are hiding from the stigma. That is, any characteristic of an individual that may develop a socially negative attitude towards that individual (psychologydictionary.org). It is the stigma and shame that keeps many outwardly quiet about their inward struggle. To talk about these things admits weakness, or does it? Let’s discuss how can we take back this stigma so that talking about it equals strength. In his engaging TED talk Sangu Delle discussed the weight of stigma in his own life as a West African man. In his country those with mental illness are chained and treated as outcasts. Thus, those who can must hide their illness at all cost. “Being strong is killing us,” Delle quotes a friend saying. He summarizes his call to action in four main points:
- Stop suffering in silence
- Stop stigmatizing disease and traumatizing the afflicted.
- Speak up about how we feel
- Being honest about how we feel does not make us weak, it makes us human.