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Opinion >  Column

Dear Kiantha: Mental health issues deserve compassion, not stigma

UPDATED: Fri., May 20, 2022

Dear Kiantha,

Why does mental health still carry such stigma even though it is something most people experience in their lifetime?

My mother committed suicide in 2009, and I still am not comfortable telling people how she died or that she suffered with mental health issues all her life.

To this day when someone asks how she died, my family and I answer, “She was sick,” then we stand by silently and allow the person we are speaking with to assume it was cancer or some other physical health issue.

My mother was not comfortable discussing her mental health with anyone while she was alive, and we clearly are still uncomfortable discussing it in her death. I feel ashamed of her truth, as it may in some way cause people to question my own mental stability.

Dear Nothing to Be Ashamed About,

You know how they say art imitates life? After reading your question, I immediately started to think about all the images I’ve seen in media over the years where there was a person or character dealing with mental health issues.

Typically, media show us exaggerated images portraying mental health in the worst way possible.

There is almost always some awful gray-toned asylum facility as a backdrop for patients in hospital gowns with no control of their thoughts or actions.

A dozen or so movies come to mind where this narrative is played out. Another narrative often seen is that of someone dealing with mental health issues being dangerous and waiting on the opportunity to harm someone.

Pop culture narratives heavily influence how society sees people dealing with mental health diagnosis.

Think of celebrities or public figures who have been demonized due to their mental health status. It is no wonder people are afraid to openly acknowledge their struggles. You, an adult child of a parent who struggled with mental health challenges, were also subconsciously conditioned to believe that mental health was something to be ashamed of, although it is not.

Mental health in my opinion should be looked at through a lens of compassion, the same lens we use when seeing someone who has a physical illness like cancer.

History shows us that although it may take what feels like forever, almost all things once stigmatized become destigmatized. I look forward to the day when that applies to mental health.

Soul to soul,

Kiantha

Dear Kiantha can be read Fridays in The Spokesman-Review. To read the column in Spanish, visit spokesman.com. To submit your questions, please email DearKiantha@gmail.com.

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