You are all probably sick of me hearing me talk about my own depression/anxiety by now, and why I made the decision to tell the world about it. But, using my personal experience, let me pivot to another topic: Why I think you should tell your story.
I shared my story as a way of trying to make people realize that anyone, anywhere can suffer from mental illness, and in an effort to help destigmatize this terrible disease. As I thrust myself into the issue, I researched more and more ways to try and do just that. What I found, uniformly, was this: The most effect way to fight the stigma that surrounds mental illness is to engage in a contact strategy.
What is a contact strategy? Well, just what it sounds like: Make sure that more people have contact with someone with mental illness. Have those people – regular, ordinary people – discuss who they are, what they suffer from, and how they are able to live a successful and productive life despite their illness.
Does the same strategy work for fighting suicide? Absolutely, and this can come from family members who have lost or those who survived a suicide attempt. While there are guidelines and best practices for sharing those stories, doing so can be hugely beneficial:
Stories of suicide loss told from the heart are powerful. They promote healing for those who are newly bereaved, educate the public about how to support survivors of suicide loss, and increase awareness of suicide risk factors and warning signs.
As you have likely seen in the news lately, many celebrities and other prominent officials have discussed their own battles with mental illness or suicidal ideation. This is wonderful in that it can lower the overall effect of stigma. But, I’ll never forget one particular piece of research that I read: While it’s important, it is not as effective as a “normal, regular” person discussing their own pain and battles. That’s because celebrities are seen as “other” – they are different than normal people in that they occupy an elevated societal plane. Thus, while celebrities going public is great, it has to come from the heart and be a ordinary person who discusses their story.
And that’s where you come in. I’ve previously noted that the most important thing I felt I did when it comes to mental illness was share my story with the world. I want to take this opportunity to encourage you to do the same. Not only is it good for everyone else – mental illness needs a human face – but it’s good for you as well! I know that sounds strange, but trust me on that. There is something deeply freeing about letting lose your deepest, darkest secret in public – particularly when that “secret” is nothing you should be ashamed of.
In the coming weeks, I’ll discuss this concept further, including tips on the best way to share your story. But for now, please, if you are able, consider going public with your mental illness. It’s the best decision I ever made in my life, and I’d encourage you to do it if you can.