Individuals and organizations throughout the world are dedicated to the important work of removing the stigma that affects people with depression and bipolar disorder. Unfortunately, too many of them are replacing one type of stigma with another type that is making the situation worse. While advocating for others to stop judging those who suffer from the conditions, they are causing a self-stigma that increases and prolongs the suffering.
My friend Andy Behrman says, “If we want to eradicate stigma, we must first understand what stigma is: ignorance, fear & discrimination.” Of the hundreds of statements about stigma, this one captures it the best for me. Everything else is an offshoot of these three core problems.
There is certainly an incredible amount of ignorance surrounding depression and bipolar disorder. Even if we were able to clear up the many misperceptions about either condition, there is so much more we need to know to fully understand them. Depression and bipolar disorder affect every part of our lives (physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social, and career/financial) and most people are aware of only a fraction of any of the parts.
We can be afraid of many things, but the worst fear is of the things we are ignorant of. The combination of fear and ignorance is so powerful that many people think fear is just another word for ignorance. They even have an acronym for it: FEAR – False Evidence Appearing Real. But when we understand fear and the role it plays in our condition, we can use it as a tool instead of letting it destroy us.
When most people talk about stigma, they are mostly concerned with discrimination and the role that ignorance and fear play in creating it. Discrimination holds us back from accomplishing what we are capable of because it robs us of opportunities that are available to others. We end up with a diminished life that is far below what should have been.
I learned about stigma soon after my first diagnosis with bipolar disorder. I began going to support groups to try to learn as much as I could about the condition and was told that I needed …