What It Really Means to DE-Stigmatize Mental Illness (and Borderline Personality Disorder)

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**The ideas contained in this post are the opinions of the writer and communicated without reference to supporting documentation. The writer also recognizes that BPD is a disorder that affects both males and females, and uses of “she” or “he” in the communication of ideas are not  intended to covey sexual bias. Breakaway MHE Disclaimer

‘There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.’

~ Shakespeare, Hamlet Act 2, Scene 2

Mental illness is no different than any other type of ailment that a human can experience in a lifetime. Given current cultural circumstances that relentlessly encourages occupational/material/financial competence over and above mental health competence, it is one of the most common types of ailments that can be experienced, and one that often co-occurs with physical health issues.

Despite this truth, and despite the fact mental health is gaining some presence in mainstream media, it remains a “taboo subject” that many people would prefer to be kept a secret in their lives for fear of being stigmatized (harshly judged or disgraced by others). The consequences of fearing mental health stigma, however, can be far-reaching and significant since it typically means delaying mental health treatment until an illness becomes painfully advanced or life is lost.

While anyone may be concerned about mental health stigma, it can be particularly troubling for people faced with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). The peculiar names that were given to mental health disorders many years ago sometimes lead people to believe that a person with BPD is permanently damaged when he isn’t, or that a person with BPD is dangerous when he isn’t. To be open about a BPD diagnosis may, in some life circumstances, increase the chances of facing stigma and any associated consequences (e.g., prejudice, discrimination).

The unfortunate truth is that there are ongoing misconceptions about how people are affected by mental illness, what diagnostic terms actually mean, and what needs to happen for people to get healthy. The purpose of DE-stigmatizing mental illness is to separate truth from untruth on the subject, and therefore, increase the odds of people seeking out and receiving the help that they need.

To follow through with de-stigmatizing mental illness, it is helpful to have some specific thought strategies for use as needed in conversation with others and during times of self-reflection. I hope that the list below can be of some assistance to you in this regard.

Thought strategy #1 –  “I am not a diagnosis”

This thought strategy relates to the fact that a human being is never a label (or a diagnosis) of any kind at any time. Sometimes when speaking of mental health issues being experienced, a person may admit that he has been diagnosed with depression or anxiety, or a range of many other issues. To speak of a diagnosis is to provide a shorthand explanation for a set of symptoms that are happening and that require treatment in order to be reduced. Both the shorthand explanation and the symptoms themselves have nothing to do with the person himself and his identity. More authentic facets of identity may include occupation, relationship status, hobbies, citizenship, political affiliation, and gender, etc., although “the real self” is no doubt much more profound than these as well. Whenever an attempt is made (by you or anyone else) to attach health issues to your identity for any reason, be sure to quickly set the boundary and drop it.

Thought strategy #2“Learning about emotions and mental health is strength, NOT weakness”

As a culture, western society needs to admit (again and again) that it does a poor job of getting its members emotionally skilled. The default setting of western society is that occupational/financial/material competence comes first and mind/body health issues only become relevant if and when it becomes a problem. Western society also indirectly communicates to its members through much of the media that “emotions are weakness,” or otherwise a nuisance aspect of human nature that may be ridiculed and punished as desired. Subsequent to these trends, humans adopt stereotypical thinking about emotions that devalues the exploration and understanding of such things. Placing mental health at the absolute bottom of human health priorities is the natural behavioural consequence of such thinking, especially among males.

The cumulative effect of humans ignoring the relevance of human emotion is to become mentally ill and experience much dysfunction in relationships. In order to enjoy the benefits of emotional intelligence and mental health, a firm oppositional attitude toward western society’s default settings and trends is needed. In other words, I would recommend that you make your default setting (and impenetrable attitude) that learning about emotions and mental health IS STRENGTH.

Thought strategy #3“I dedicate myself to living in reality and doing all in my power to achieving and maintaining this”

To live in reality is something not easily achieved nor understood. Most people believe they are living in reality when in fact they are not, meaning that they are completely or partially lost in unrealistic expectations, magical thinking, or dominant cultural propaganda. We are, for instance, carried away in unrealistic expectations when we believe that we can get away with ignoring our mental health and then have no problems with it over long periods of time. We are using magical thinking when we believe doing things that have nothing to do with mental health maintenance (e.g., shopping) can support our mental health. We are lost to cultural propaganda when we unquestioningly follow the advice of cultural authorities.

Mindful meditation practices work well to remain grounded in reality, since they open our eyes to how many ways the human mind can wander and make-believe what it wants. By learning to pay regular attention to the here and now, it becomes easier to listen to the genuine needs of the mind/body system. By becoming a better listener to oneself, it then also becomes easier to honour the needs of the mind/body system, and henceforth reject mental health stigma that stems from a wandering mind and the make-believe aspects of modern culture. The final realization of this thought strategy, therefore, is that mental health stigma has always been the result of humans following the unhelpful meandering of personal and collective imagination. To understand and embrace thought strategies such as these offers power to reject stigma at its core, and thus become fully free to optimize mental health.







photo credit: jttoivonen Ghost of a Black-headed Gull via photopin (license)


Thank you for reading! Please share to help us raise mental health awareness.