As many people know I am a stigma fighter and I tend to almost over-analyze as to why stigma exists and how it can be eliminated. It is true, I believe the word 'stigma' is an overused word/term but at the same time it goes a long way. I enjoy talking about stigma because it highlights the challenges those with mental illness face and it helps society to collectively change its ways as we move forward.'
Despite being a public mental health advocate I still encounter stigma and I have never expected to be immune from it. If anything it empowers me to educate others and call out stigma as soon as I see it. I have witnessed several people around me change their ways and actually tell me my story has helped them to think differently about mental illness.
Previously I blogged about having my own personal stigma in a post titled "I Confess, Even I Have Mental Health Stigma." Since that post almost 18 months ago I am still amazed at how many people in the mental health community have their own stigma. I'll give you two examples that I encountered in recent days.
On Saturday an acquaintance of mine lost patience with me during a panic attack. While I am having one I can become extremely irritable, impatient, and disoriented. This acquaintance of mine works with people with mental illness said, "I know what people like you go through. Snap out if it and knock it off" to which I replied, "People like me?" That was when my acquaintance walked away from me.
My second experience was that I was stunned to learn I was not invited to a mental health conference happening this week. I played a role in last year's conference and despite reducing my role with the organization I was hopeful to be apart of this year's event. When I was in contact with the agency late last year I got the impression the event was still up in the air for budgetary reasons. You can imagine my surprise last week when I found out that it was going ahead but also others I closely work with were invited and I was not.
I am not bitter about not being invited because that it is at the organizer's discretion. However, I am upset at their reasoning not to invite me. Limiting my role within the organization had nothing to do with their decision not to invite me. Instead they thought I didn't want to attend but more importantly they said they had concerns about my mental health.
I find it absolutely ironic that organizers of a mental health conference did not invite somebody they would ordinarily invite because they were concerned about my mental illness. This organization is not my health-care provider but they have done wonders for the mental health community both in Canada but also abroad. I admit that I faced some of my darkest days a few months ago. However, it is wrong for them to assume I was not in good shape to attend the conference. If they didn't want me there they should have had the guts to just say so instead of using my mental illness as an excuse.
Stigma will always exist but I have made it my mission to minimize it to the lowest levels possible. Experiences such as mine make the mental health community lose credibility when it comes to minimizing stigma. How can we ask the general public not to stigmatize others when we are guilty of doing it ourselves?
This experience will not deter me from the work I am doing, it will simply just make me work harder.