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When someone falls and bruises their knees, they cry from the excruciating pain. They cry because they want someone to run to them and check on them, to hold their hands as they try to stand up again, to tend to their wounds. So, they cry, they allow their hurt and agony to be physically seen – they ask for help and when it lies there before them, they accept it.

It feels like a natural response because this is deemed normal- you aren’t shamed for this, nor do you put yourself down for being injured and receiving aid. Yet, when the circumstances are altered and the blood from your wound gushes within you and not out of you, the act of struggling and seeking help is suddenly enveloped in shame and fear.

The human aversion to accepting help finds its roots in numerous psychological and environmental factors but this article aims to focus on one’s individual contribution to this phenomenon. The hardships of leading life whilst having to face a mental illness form quite an established reality at this point, but what sometimes goes unnoticed and very often unaddressed is one’s overwhelming sense of shame for having the mental illness in the first place.

This shame exacerbates an already dire situation; it tightens the shackles and drowns people deeper into their struggles. It is this shame that holds them back from properly understanding their situation with patience and honesty. It is this shame that represses (almost) all the compassion that they rightfully should allow themselves to feel for it is this compassion that could mark the beginning of their healing journey and then potentially change everything.

When one struggles with a mental illness, they often find themselves in a dilemma – regarding their emotions, their actions, their relationships, and frankly, almost every aspect of their lives. They perpetually feel drained and stretched to their limits, they experience baseless and distorted beliefs of themselves, and their self-esteem takes a plunge. Regular events in daily life are no longer regular and consequently, all these factors make them feel different from others.

A very commonly shared thought by those struggling is that they see themselves deviating from what they know as “normal” and that they feel damaged and incomplete. These belittling feelings tend to hold one back from considering help, much less asking for them at all. The burdening weight of this shame slowly forms a thick fog, pushing people further away from treatment and the possibility of a life beyond their mental illness.

Now, we are witnessing the phenomena of self-stigma, an extended form of mental health stigma, which involves an individual engaging in a kind of self-sabotage as their lacking ability to understand their own struggles and the guilt they feel over struggling, ends up worsening their conditions.

A thematic analysis published by BMC Psychiatry on the results of twenty-two published studies on the perceived barriers or facilitators in young people cited the most frequently mentioned barrier to help-seeking was “public, perceived and self-stigmatising attitudes to mental illness” which topped the list of thirteen other important barrier themes. It goes without saying that these attitudes of shame and guilt are highly insidious as it forces individuals to forget an important truth that there can never be shame in seeking something as benevolent and genuine as help.

Here are five more truths that must never go forgotten, and that everyone ought to be reminded of ever so often:

  1. There is no shame in suffering from mental illnesses – pain is still pain whether it exists on the surface of your skin or beneath it.
  2. Your limited ability to function as usual is not a sign of weakness but rather a sign that you should take things slowly, treat yourself kindly and seek the support you need.
  3. ’Normal’ is simply what you choose to define it as, the world is not bound by a single idea.
  4. You are not damaged beyond repair or a lost cause (mental illnesses spew out lies) – you are battling hard times.
  5. Everyone deserves help and is worthy of pursuing a life out of and beyond their struggles and aches – so hang in there, accept help and continue fighting to reignite your fire again.

Words by: Harsheni Maniarasan

Edited by: Dasha Pitts-Yushchenko

Philosophy student at the University of Leeds who adores penning poetry, heart-wrenching literature and shopping.
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