Stigma and Suicide

by Kevin Caruso

If you had a broken leg, you would go to a hospital immediately. There would be no hesitation, and no consideration about what others would “think.” And after you left the hospital, you would not hide out in your house because you would be afraid of being discriminated against because of your “condition.” You would just go on with your life.

No big deal. A broken leg. A cast. And in a few months, a healed bone.

But what if a stigma was attached to having a broken leg? Then what? What if you could lose your job because of it? What if people would treat you differently because of it? What if people said that you were weak because of it? Weak?

Yes. Only weak people get broken legs.

So, you are weak! And what if people told you that your broken leg was all in your mind? That you just needed to be “strong”? That you were choosing to have a broken leg? And what if you lost friends because of your broken leg?

Remember–you are a weak person for having a broken leg, and don’t you ever forget it. And what if people whispered behind your back about you because of your broken leg? After all, only crazy people have broken legs. You didn’t know that? Well now you do.

You are crazy! That’s right, crazy! So you are ridiculed incessantly, become a pariah, lose your job, lose friends, and now you start believing that you actually are weak and crazy. And the pain of the broken leg is unbearable because you never sought treatment. How could you? The “broken-leg stigma” prevented you from getting help.

So you begin having suicidal thoughts. You want to end it all. You cannot go on.

Sound far-fetched? Unfortunately this scenario unfolds every day. And it certainly could happen to you, except not with a broken leg, but with a mental illness.

Because of the stigma (the ignorant stigma, mind you) that still exists concerning mental illness, many people who need help do not seek it. Even though there is clear scientific data that indicates irrefutably that a physical connection exists with most mental disorders, many people still stigmatize others because they stupidly hold on to the misguided beliefs of yesteryear that people with mental disorders are weak or just lack will power.

So, again, many people who need help do not get it because of this ridiculous stigma. So they try to live their lives with untreated mental disorders, like depression. Unfortunately, untreated mental disorders can lead to suicide.

So, what needs to be done?

First, if you need treatment, get it now.

It does not matter what stupid and ignorant people think, what matters is that you get help for yourself. Period. Do not allow ignorant people to cause you any more pain than you are now feeling. And remember, their ignorance and stupidity is their problem, not yours. So, if you or anyone that you know needs help, get help now.

And if you do not have a mental disorder and are reading this out of curiosity, then I would ask you to examine your beliefs. Where do you stand? Are you helping perpetuate this stigma of mental illness, or are you helping to eliminate it. If you need to adjust your mindset because you may still be clinging onto ignorant beliefs about mental illness, then you should do so.

Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.

We all need to examine our beliefs, and try to purge any ignorance or insensitivities that we may have with regards to mental illness, because a mental illness is just like any other illness. It can be diagnosed and treated. And the person can get better. If you are a compassionate, loving person who has eliminated any stigmas of mental illness from your thinking, then you should let your voice be heard and help reduce the level of ignorance about mental illness in our society.

The most important thing that we can all do for people who are mentally ill is to get them help as quickly as possible, while we show them as much love and concern as possible. Immediate treatment, without stigma, should be our ultimate objective. Because when more people receive treatment for mental illness, there will be fewer suicides.