Mental health stigma is decreasing, yet it is still pervasive among people with mental illness and especially for people of the neurodiverse community. People who are viewed as different or not normal can be stigmatized unfairly and even struggle to find a clinician that understands the unique needs of neurodivergent therapy. Culture has played a part in how people with mental illness or brain differences were inaccurately portrayed throughout history as if they were untrustworthy or deranged. While society has grown in its understanding and education, many assumptions about mental health and the brain still exist today.
Stigma can prevent people from seeking support for their mental health struggles, it can dissuade people from sharing the truth about how tough it is, it can cause people to pretend to be someone they are not, and it can make people deny parts of themselves to ensure they are safe from discrimination. In fact, research suggests that as many as half the population do not seek mental health support because of stigma. Stigma can be a painful and isolating burden.
However, the more we treat mental health as a subject we don’t need to tip toe around, we are making strides in decreasing stigma. Luckily, many researchers, educators, and proponents of neurodivergent therapy are sharing more and more information that helps clear up assumptions, stereotypes, and fears around what might be considered different.
In this article, we explore the ways that neurodivergent therapy can live the life you envision, despite mental health stigma. We share secrets that help you grow compassion for yourself and others. Continue reading to learn these secrets, and begin living more authentically.
First, let’s get clear on what stigma is. Stigma is defined as “attitudes of predujice or discrimination toward a group pf people, that cause this group to be marginalized and alienated”. While generally we hear this discussed in terms of general mental health, Folks in the neurodivergent community also face prejudice and discrimination. Stigma can have negative effects, such as:
There is power in the stories we tell. Narrative therapists explore the narratives, or stories, that we tell ourselves, knowing that it becomes the bedrock of how we understand ourselves. If we are telling ourselves the story that I am less than, damaged, that something is wrong with me, that I am too much or too little, then these words are directly shaping our self-worth. In neurodivergent therapy, when we learn to shift our language to, I am enough, I deserve what I want, I am likable and funny, I have good days and bad days but so does everyone, then we are building up our self-esteem. Remember that what we think of ourselves is far more powerful than the opinions of others.
Exploring the words you are using to describe yourself, as well as the characters in your life dramas, can help make the difference in feeling like you are worthy and feeling like you are uninvited from belonging. It’s helpful to reflect on how you persisted through your struggles, who believed in you, what hope you held on to, and how these experiences shaped you into who you are today.
Stories are also a way we can cut through our differences and tap into common struggles, emotions, fears, and worries. When we share our truth with others, we are also affirming who we believe ourselves to be. This is why the stories we tell ourselves are powerful.
Sometimes, we fear that if we admit that we struggle with our mental health or we have a certain diagnosis, we will be judged. Our worst fear is putting ourselves out there only to be judged for being different or weak. But when we share our story, we are actually being brave in acknowledging the ways we’ve been hurt and scared. When we share our story, we aren’t looking for permission to be ourselves; we are sharing what made us who we are.
When sharing your story, remember that you are the expert. There are some people who will not understand and may not be the safest people to confide in. You can decide who is worth sharing with and who is not. You can decide when you are ready to share or if it’s not yet the right time. There is no rush nor pressure to reveal more than what you are ready for. If you feel like someone has used cruel or offensive language, you can speak up and share that their words were hurtful. Sometimes, people aren’t aware of the impact their words have. Microaggressions about mental health happen often since mental illness can many times be invisible.
Going through struggles in life, we may feel alone and worry that no one else could understand. We might feel shame for being different or not handling our struggles as well as we think we should be. Ways you can connect with others include: neurodivergent therapy groups, online forums where others share about their own experiences, social media posts and mental health accounts.
Much of stopping stigma is an inside job. However, finding community can help bolster against shame and doubt. Community makes a big difference knowing that there are others who do not judge you and instead value you for who you are. Even if it is leaning on one trusted friend, this can make a positive impact on how you feel about yourself.