Stigma still exists under our veil of ignorance

The dark and undesirable elements experienced by those facing depression are not talked about

’Depression and anxiety appear ‘destigmatised’, but only on the label.’

’Depression and anxiety appear ‘destigmatised’, but only on the label.’

 

Stigma. It has almost become a buzz word. Public personalities are praised for speaking about their mental health difficulties, ‘breaking the stigma’ and encouraging others to do the same.

As a young person in Irish society, I have witnessed first-hand the evolution of open conversation, aided and hindered by technology and social media. Your words can reach many; in turn, inspiring them to reflect and situate their mind-frame and attitudes in a more centred and positive space. People are vocalising their medical diagnoses, their honesty greeted with endless supportive comments from peers admiring their bravery.

The results of people speaking about their differences have been celebrated, as a problem shared often is a problem halved. The youngest generations willingly and openly seek therapy.

Yet stigma is well and truly alive underneath the veneer of progress. The ongoing conversations about mental health seem to hone in on depression and anxiety alone.

As a young adult, I find it difficult to bring peers to mind that have not yet suffered from one of them. This has brought an understanding and empathy into our circles that society can be proud of, yet it still only scratches the surface. Other mental disorders aren’t discussed. OCD continues to be portrayed inaccurately in the media and the lines between bipolar disorder and schizophrenia are blurred in the mind of a standard, unaffected person.

Depression and anxiety appear ‘destigmatised’, but only on the label. The dark and undesirable elements experienced by those facing depression are not talked about, they are run away from.

You can talk to me about anything, wait no not about that. You can tell me you’re depressed, I’m here for you! But I don’t want to know how debilitating it is and that you haven’t showered since Wednesday.

That’s not to say boundaries aren’t acceptable, but rather it’s the commentary that follows which causes the problem. The isolation and disconnect the sufferer feels following an abandoned encounter keeps stigma alight.

The same can be said for false support in the area at the forefront of many of our minds: drug addiction. Ireland is progressing (no matter how overdue) with harm reduction strategies from the Ana Liffey Drug Project, proposals of drug decriminalisation and medicinal cannabis legalisation. Educative information is accessible to anyone who can read, so naturally there’s a rise in support from the masses.

Support is necessary to implement positive change in society, but what are policies without practice and connection? I do believe that decriminalisation isn’t just about a change in the law, but a change in our attitudes and dialogue, an eradication of stigma. What is the use of stating support for drug addicts, if you’re the first person to call a homeless person in the city centre a junkie or a scumbag?

These words may slip off the tongue in Irish culture, but language is a powerful tool and hypocrisy will do nothing for progress. The stigma does not need to be broken for those who want to smoke cannabis or experiment with party drugs, but rather for those who service structure will directly impact. You can’t advocate for a change in policy that’ll suit your version of a good time while looking down on or ignoring the addicts who these changes will truly benefit.

To truly propel Irish society in the direction of acceptance and understanding we like to believe we have, we need a deeper effort. A mindful take on language, an empathetic approach to our suffering peers and an effort to tolerate things bigger than ourselves are crucial for making stigma a thing of the past.