Can we be kinder to ourselves?
Positive Psychology Coach and RB Mind Trustee, Monika Waller, examines how we can reduce self-stigma by prioritising self-care in our lives.
What comes to mind when you think of mental health stigma? You may associate stigma with prejudice and discrimination. That stigma is the negative opinion held by the larger population towards a group or an individual with poor mental health. But sometimes people with poor mental health internalise such views and suffer a decline in self-esteem and self-efficacy as a result. This is known as self-stigma.
Recent research by Mind reveals a number of people do not feel worthy asking for help and accessing mental health support and services. Other research points out a related consequence of self-stigmatisation called the ‘why try’ effect in which self-stigma interferes with the achievement of life goals. Is it possible to deal with self-stigma?
Personal empowerment – an antidote to self-stigma
It’s important to challenge self-stigma. How would you treat your best friend when they feel inadequate, or they struggle in some way? And how do you typically respond to yourself in these situations? The chances are you are not very gentle with yourself and probably say or think some harsh things that make you feel even worse. You could instead consider becoming a better friend to yourself and treating yourself with more self-respect and kindness. Personal empowerment is an antidote to self-stigma. And it’s important to know stigma isn’t the person’s fault. Having self-stigma isn’t some sort of flaw. Stigma is a creation of society and those false perceptions.
So how can personal empowerment reduce self-stigma? In three ways:
- Peer support
An empowered individual will often seek opportunities to provide and share their testimonial of lived experience and will advocate for more education about mental health. They will find ways to debunk the myths about poor psychological wellbeing and will fight against negative stereotypes. Such empowerment is authentic as people who have experienced self-stigma know what deep shame and sadness feel like. By acting and not hiding they regain power, control and optimism. In a way, they advocate for themselves as well, and gradually reduce self-stigma.
There is no easy fix for self-stigma. Family and friends may not know how best to support someone who has been experiencing it. Personal empowerment will energise people to establish some kind of mental hygiene. Indeed, it bears similarity to oral hygiene – small but regular actions amount to better health. Finding ways to boost positivity in everyday life seems easy enough, for example going for a walk in nature, engaging in a hobby, cooking favourite food, connecting with friends. And let’s not forget to say some kind and uplifting words to ourselves. How about making a list of all things that went well on the day? The positive emotions we cultivate are subtle but enriching and will bring about more optimism.
When empowered individuals are looking for ways to reduce the effects of self-stigma, they may discover that peer-to-peer support is a great option. Studies have shown that people who experience this type of help from others in their community or social circle can get relief from symptoms and feel more hopeful about their future. Participating in a peer support group can be especially helpful if that person has felt judged or stigmatised by others in their life, as it provides them with an opportunity to find acceptance and understanding from somebody else. Richmond Borough Mind runs our own Peer Group Network which is made of several groups run by, and for, people who experience mental health problems. In addition, it’s possible to create and co-produce new groups and become a Peer Volunteer. All interested empowered individuals can send an email to [email protected]
Coming together and co-creating solutions
Self-stigma may apply as well to any of us when our emotional wellbeing is wavering. It’s not true that you either have your mental health or you don’t. Perhaps right now we’re doing okay, but we are not thriving. Is this our ‘why try’ moment? Do we see ourselves nowadays as inept to really achieve our life goals? It’s likely we can name all our weaknesses on the spot. But can we list all our strengths just as easily? And do we know how to further develop our inner talents?
Positive change is possible. Sometimes because of our fear (prejudice) or our belief (stereotype) we may imagine that great mental health is for a selected few. Let’s come together as the Richmond Borough community and co-create solutions to reducing both self-stigma and stigma in mental health.