My experience with the stigma of mental illness

Humans need connection. We need to relate and want to feel a part of something. Research proves this. Unfortunately, mental Illness leaves individuals and families more alone than any other illness. How often do we hear friends, family, coworkers, and church talking or praying for mental illness? Yet, how often do we hear the words, high blood pressure, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, cancer, diabetes, etc. Mental Illness is a disorder of the brain that leaves individuals and families stigmatized around the world. Families who struggle with mental illness tend to battle it privately because of the fear that the truth will not be accepted.

“Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.”  Brené Brown

Reading Brene Brown’s work was a turning point for me. Brene is a shame researcher among other amazing things. I never really took the time to understand what shame was. It wasn’t until I was reading her book, “I thought it was just me (but it isn’t)”, that I finally truly “got it”. Tears began to fill my eyes as I realized I had been living parts of my life under an umbrella of shame. She describes shame as the deep and painful feeling that we are flawed for whatever reason. It could be something we have done, experienced, or something we have failed to do. These feelings lead us to believe that we are not worthy of love and belonging; that we are not enough. I had been spending so much of my life trying to prove that I was enough, but I never really believed it. I HAD to find out why.

“You are imperfect, you are wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging.”  Brené Brown

Everything pointed back to my mom’s mental illness and my life growing up. I am sure this is not shocking news, but growing up in this situation was no easy task. When my mom ended up in the hospital numerous times, no one brought us a casserole. We never got a card. Family did not understand the scope of the problem. People seemed to distance themselves from us. I noticed early on that the media and movies repeatedly represented mental illness in a poor light. I learned that “crazy” and “psycho” were names that the public identified with my own mother. I learned that talking about my family to others made them uncomfortable. I learned quickly I was not like other kids. All the while, I knew how loving and beautiful my mom was and it hurt me to know how often that was dismissed due to her illness.


I did not want to be the only child with a mentally ill mother because the world told me that would scare people. It told me that made me different. Mom could not work or drive and that caused a large change in our income. I did not want to live in run-down apartment complexes, and I was embarrassed every time someone had to drop me off or pick me up. I did not want to be taken to school in an old beat-up car that did not have air conditioning (one of them didn’t even have a door). I would make my dad drop me off down the street from school, or I stayed with friends until I could get a car. I did not want to be the one who couldn’t afford clothes, so I got a job at the mall the minute I turned sixteen. I did not want to be the one whose parents never showed up to events because mom could not drive and dad had to work to keep us alive. But I was, and despite how hard I tried to prove I was normal, nothing I did mattered. Everyone knew I was different.

“Perfectionism is a self destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.”  Brené Brown

  I am so thankful for these two women who helped take care of me, and loved my family wholeheartedly.


As I got older and more independent, I had the ability to distance myself from that life. As I met new friends and built new relationships, I was very selective as to who I would tell my story to. In fact, up until I started this blog, very few people knew. It was how I protected us.

“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.” Brené Brown

I believe that the stigma of mental illness played a big role in the shame I felt. The world told me what I should be and I didn’t measure up. Nothing I did would change the fact that I was the daughter of a mom with a severe mental illness. I had to own my story if I wanted to break through the shame. I had to believe that every part of me was enough. I had to believe that I was not my mom. The hardest part of it all was that I had to come to the realization that I was stigmatizing mental illness myself by running from it. I believed the world and that had to end. I could finally be me. Most importantly, I accepted my story for all that it is. I will go down telling the world about it in honor of my beautiful family that deserves, like everyone else, to get fair treatment in this world.

“If you want to make a difference, the next time you see someone being cruel to another human being, take it personally. Take it personally because it is personal!” Brené Brown


The truth is mental illness is common…

1 in 5 adults in America live with a mental illness and 1 in 25 adults live with a serious mental illness. 60% of those did not receive mental health services in the past year. 20% of youth age 13-18 live with a mental health condition and 50% of those did not receive mental health services in the past year. Individuals and families living with mental illness often do not get treatment due to the fear of what others will think. Many face feelings of isolation, low self-esteem, hopelessness, confusion, poor and unfair medical treatment, judgment, lack of empathy and compassion (moral failure), and discrimination.

The truth is mental illness can be scary, but it’s rare…

Partly thanks to entertainment and the news media, an inaccurate belief about mental illness and violence has lead to widespread stigma and discrimination. People with psychiatric disabilities are 2 ½ times more likely to be victims of a crime than commit a crime. Studies have shown that only a very small proportion of violence in our society can be attributed to people who were mentally ill. In fact, the great majority of people who are violent do not suffer from a mental illness.

We can all make a difference by changing the way that we think about mental illness and sharing that with others. I choose to do this in honor of my mom and all the others who suffer from a mental illness. Even if strides with mental illness continue to move at a snails pace, I find rest knowing there is peace in heaven and the stigma will no longer exist.

I would like to challenge you to pause for a moment and think deeply about your feelings of mental illness. Reflect on how you felt before you began reading this blog. Think about how others in your life view mental illness as well. Does it scare you? Are you afraid of people who have mental illnesses? Do you believe there is adequate care for those struggling with mental illness? Do you believe there is help for the families of those struggling with mental illness? Now I just simply ask that you open your heart and mind to new ways of thinking. If you feel so compelled, take the “Stigma Free” pledge (at the top of my blog) and tell me about it in the comments.

























3 thoughts on “My experience with the stigma of mental illness

  1. I am stigma free! You have taught me so much about mental illness… I wish more could be done to help those who suffer with mental illness. Xoxox

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