Stigma – that monster that starts with prejudice grown out of fear, which almost immediately takes over a whole town, a whole nation, the whole society at large, and looms over us all, keeping the truth away from us. Because when the truth is difficult to face, when the truth might show something we don’t like, something that makes us feel uncomfortable and with which we do not agree, it’s much easier to believe the stigma and go on with our lives, unaffected. And so when we hear that someone has died by suicide, we do not openly ask and talk about it. We might briefly wonder why the person died by suicide or why they felt so misunderstood, silenced, and hopeless, but we do not ask. We do not, under any circumstances, mention the word suicide and openly discuss it, nor do we discuss the mental illness that most likely led the person to seeing suicide as their only option. We do not, because we were not taught it is acceptable to do so. We were instead taught to simply feel a moment of sympathy, then turn away. And this is what stigma does. It tells us that we might be entering an uncomfortable discussion and that the best is to leave it be. It tells us that it’s easier to explain it all away by thinking that the person who died by suicide was somehow weak, or selfish for not thinking about how what they were doing would affect others. And this is how, in turn, victim blaming starts.
But stigma has surrounded every illness. The plague was in the past erroneously blamed on the poor. And depression and suicidal ideation is today erroneously blamed on the “weak”. But the longer we continue to keep away the truth – the truth that people who consider suicide are not weak but rather affected by mental illness such as depression – the longer suicide attempts will be on the rise. If we haven’t ourselves had a mental illness and thought of suicide as an option, we may be able to ignore the issue and go on with our lives, unaffected. Except we are not, in fact, unaffected – because mental illness can happen to anyone and because it does not affect just the person who considers suicide, but also everyone who ever cared about them. So if millions of people are affected by suicide, isn’t it time we ended the stigma of suicide and mental health? Isn’t it time we started bringing the issue out into the light, asking questions, talking about it, and discussing it openly, so that the people affected by it might not feel silenced, but rather start to feel that it is alright to address it, to speak up and to seek help?
Breaking the silence and ending the stigma might be the only way to bring about change, because mental illness is not something that signals a weakness, not something that defines one, and not something one is – rather, just like physical illness, mental illness is something that happens to one. And just like physical illness, mental illness can be treated. If our body is aching no one is judging us for seeking medical help. Shouldn’t it be the same if we have a mental ailment?