How did shame and illness become linked?
By Sonia Moloney
When I read the definition of shame, a word stood out to me within it: wrongdoing.
As I read that, I wondered how shame and illness became linked. Nobody would link a physical illness and shame. But yet mental health conditions and shame have gone hand in hand for years.
See the thing with mental health is, people are ashamed to tell others due to fear of not being understood. Or the fear of what others might think of them. In January 2016, I walked into an office for help with college work. I was struggling with my mental health the whole first semester of college. The negative thoughts of self-doubt, the constant unstoppable worrying cycle. Before I knew it, the words had left my mouth I was struggling hugely. And once I started to say how I felt and how much mental distress I was in, I couldn’t hold back. What worried me more than self-doubt, the negative thoughts and the mental health distress I was in at the time, was the shame of speaking out and the reaction I would receive. I was plagued with thoughts like “what would everyone think of me? They’ll think I’m weak and I can’t cope with the stress of college/life.” The shame of “I’ve let everyone around me down friends, family. How did I let myself get this bad?” I asked the counsellor not to say anything to anyone. I was embarrassed purely for struggling with a mental health condition.
Shame to me, as someone with a mental health condition, for the longest time made me feel like I needed to hide my struggle with my anxiety from others because I feared I wouldn’t be understood and treated differently. Shame made me decline help at the start of my journey but because I asked for help, I now have tools that help me manage my anxiety and I’m truly grateful for it.
Anxiety and depression are one of the most talked about and more accepted mental health conditions. I read an article recently where they had said if you had a mate who told you they were diagnosed with depression, would you react in the same way as if they told you they had schizophrenia. The truth is most people wouldn’t so we still have a long way to go in taking shame totally out of the picture when it comes to mental health conditions. Nobody should be ashamed of struggling with their mental health.
To anyone out there struggling with their mental health and struggling to ask for help, show yourself the same compassion you would if you were struggling with a physical illness. Know it is ok to reach out and ask for help. The right people will show you the kindness and compassion you deserve.
If you are having a tough time at the moment and need to reach out for support, please contact any of the following