Stigma; a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.
Whether we like it or not there is a stigma about mental health worldwide, but particularly in New Zealand. Sir John Kirwan was one of the first kiwis to actually stand up and talk about it. We all say it, because it’s true; New Zealand needs more people who are willing to talk about mental health. We need to take it off this voodoo, unspoken pedestal that we’ve put it on and make it something that people aren’t afraid to talk about.
I didn’t realise there was such limited funding for mental health in NZ, despite our country having one of the highest suicide rates in the world. This became more evident to me last month. I spent hours in Palmerston North Hospital only to be talked to by the “crisis team” which consisted of two self-glorified nurses who made me feel smaller than I already felt. They wanted me to talk, but screw that, I’m not going to talk to someone who clearly didn’t respect what I was going through. Hallelujah that the new budget announced they’re putting $224 million into mental health in NZ over the next four years. But realistically it’s still not enough.
I was told by a ‘sort of’ friend, whom I know suffers similarly to myself to not share the story in the ‘About’ section of my blog because of the mental health stigma. He said,
“Oh yeah, it’s absolutely too much for people with no understanding. Whether we like it or not it still has a negative stigma.”
So I didn’t share it except to three people. But that was before this blog. Now I feel that I need to share. I want to help myself and hopefully help someone else, along the way.
I was a tad under the influence of red wine, but last weekend my friends couldn’t believe I was able to talk about what I was going through, as I never had to this extent before. When they said they were happy I shared, I felt myself thinking, “sh*t, I shouldn’t have talked so much, no one wants to hear this”. That damn stigma again.
If I’m honest, I’m shitting my pants that my friends and people I know are starting to discover this blog. I don’t mind at all, sharing my story with people I don’t know. But this blog is something, I’d hoped to keep a secret from people I know for a while at least. I’m terrified for people to discover the truth about me. For years and years I’ve hid my depression from people and I’ve struggled to talk about it. I don’t want to be put in a box in the corner, marked as “defective”.
I guess that’s very assuming of me, and I guess I’ve internalised society’s stigma into my own self-stigma making myself feeling unworthy. But let’s be honest, our society does have a tendency to exclude those of us who aren’t “normal”. I’ve pretended to be normal, and someone I’m not for a decade, and I’m just exhausted. This pretending has been one of the most tiresome parts of this battle. And to be honest, I’m still doing it to some extent to stop my family and friends worrying about me, just keeping them at bay for a little while, while I figure out what I’m doing and who I am.
I’m happy to follow in Sir JK’s footsteps and talk about my mental health, but I’m just a small town girl, from a place with one roundabout. More people need to stand up and talk. Otherwise this whole stigma isn’t going to shift anytime soon.