Stigma and mental health

Mental health has always been a stigmatized topic: rejected by many because of the confusion and fear that surround it. But what is mental health except for the health of our own mind? Just like we take care of our bodies, we must have mental hygiene. Having mental health problems is not a “big thing” out there: it is what can happen due to a mix of biological and environmental factors. However, this does not mean that we are trapped with a fixed condition. Our minds are malleable and receptive. I found that during boarding school (in Hong Kong) when I let the stigmatization of mental health weigh down on me, and when I let people label my anxiety and treat me differently accordingly, my anxiety would get worse. 

I realised all the stigma that was flying around was from people who simply were not knowledgeable about mental health. The stigma was creating more and more separation between people in the community. However, I believe that what we need in this world is radical acceptance of each other and our diversity, without hierarchy. I also realized that different cultures have different ways of treating mental health. 

For example, I now study at UBC, Vancouver, where mental health is a much more talked about and open topic. It is not seen as something “taboo”. I felt much safer to share my own experiences with others, feel heard and accepted, which eased my anxiety. Many cultures have different views on mental health – some cultures totally reject its existence, and some have it so integrated in daily life that it is not seen as anything out of the ordinary. Some cultures see mental health issues as a special attribute that some people have rather than as something negative. It is just something different. In Tibetan culture, minds are seen as a flow, a flux, everyone has mental health “issues” at certain periods of their life (ie. stress/anxiety/depression) and then they heal and fluctuate. Thus, there is really no right or wrong. Stigma is a fleeting and ever-changing concept that ultimately does not matter. What matters is how we treat ourselves and others with equanimity and take care of our relationship with our own minds.

As I spent more time looking into my mind, I realized how I would often take the toxic stigma about mental health and use it as another reason to ‘hate’ myself. This would simply exacerbate my poor mental health. Ultimately, what I recognized was that if I wanted to heal, I needed a gentle relationship with myself and my mind: to accept what I was going through unconditionally, without judgement, and knowing that none of it was my fault. We all grow up in this every globalized, chaotic, and consumerist world that is incredibly fast paced and unbalanced. We are constantly “told” what we need to do and who we need to be. We rarely have time to develop a loving relationship with ourselves. We rarely have time to sit down with our minds and emotions and see what is going on inside of us. This deficit of kindness towards ourselves often accumulates over time, and leads to a lot of people having unstable mental health. 

However, in this present moment, there are ways to reach the freedom to choose to drop all stigmatization that has been projected on to us regarding mental health. Once I decided that I would learn and practice to stop judging myself and start truly loving myself for who I was, my path to healing became more clear. When I stopped labelling myself, I found myself free of expectations. I spent more time listening to myself, listening to what I needed on days I felt anxious. On days when I would feel overly-emotional and over-stimulated, I would drop down into my body and ask it what it needed. I practiced listening to my own inner voice instead of trying to change or perfect myself, accepting and embracing that who I was in this moment was enough. With patience and an open mind, I would witness anxiety arise and pass, holding myself lovingly. I allowed my mental pains and struggles to become reasons for me to love myself even more fully every day.

-Anthea Yip