As a mental health advocate I have made it my mission to make the public aware of the amount of stigma facing those with mental health difficulties. It's not an easy task and I can't do it alone but I am proud of my accomplishments so far. Yet I realize I have a lot more work ahead of me, and I'm OK with that.
In order to put an end to a problem such as stigma you must first identify the origin of the problem and ask why it exists. What is it that we with mental illness say or do that makes others treat us negatively therefore creating stigma? I recently had to ask myself this question.
A few weeks ago my dog groomer vanished without a trace. I have been a loyal customer for several years because of her talent but also because of the affordability her business offers. I was extremely concerned for my groomer's well-being after seeing her face splashed across the local newspaper and TV newscast. I was devastated every time I heard the police had no leads as to her whereabouts. Obviously a lot of negative thoughts crossed my mind and I emotionally prepared myself for getting the worst news possible.
Thankfully, my groomer was found a week after she went missing not far from her shop. She was healthy and the media reported no foul play was suspected in her disappearance and the police had concluded their investigation.
I learned through my groomer's employees that she didn't tell anybody where she was and nobody was able to contact her. The police, friends, and family were worried sick about her disappearance. I asked myself how somebody could just go off the radar while family and friends were worried and the police were searching day and night for her and then reappear as if nothing happened.
Don't get me wrong; I am relieved my groomer was found healthy. But I am concerned by my groomer's actions. I asked both myself and my mother whether or not we should continue to be her customer as a result of her actions. That's when I realized -- I have stigma. Whether or not it's in relation to mental health, I don't know. But stigma is still stigma and mine has altered how I feel about somebody and could potentially influence whether or not I continue to support my groomer's business.
I visited my groomer recently and was very careful about how I approached the situation because I only know her on a professional level but I wanted to show her I was genuinely concerned, and tried to gauge why she disappeared. Any attempt I made to try and understand why my groomer disappeared failed. I am not criticizing my groomer's right to privacy but as somebody who cares, I have a lot of questions.
The biggest question on mind is whether or not I can continue to support somebody whose actions were questionable and uncommon. If my groomer asked to sit down for coffee with me to chat I'd be there in a heartbeat; but I don't know whether or not I can continue to support her business after her disappearance. I need to stress that how I'm feeling is upsetting to me. For so long I have advocated against stigma, and now I'm living with stigma of my own. To this day I am still trying to earn back the trust people of people who were concerned by my actions when I went through some personal challenges. It is a painstaking process losing people you love and care about during a time you really need them.
I plan on taking some time to absorb the events of the past few weeks but ultimately I'm hoping the intensity of what I'm feeling dies down. My groomer needs me; but I also need her.
Whatever causes we fight and advocate for, we as humans may still have questions or turn our backs to a group within the group we are advocating for. An example of this is being an advocate for the fair treatment of animals but believing pit bulls should be banned.
Acknowledging I have stigma is one of the hardest things I have ever done publicly. I don't condone my actions and I promise to continue to fight against stigma both publicly and privately. I encourage everybody reading this blog to ask themselves if they too have stigma, why they have it, and what they can do to eliminate it.
I hope you'll join me in eliminating mental health stigma!