Fighting Mental Health Stigma Anonymously

Lift up your voice
Give of your mind one mind
Give of your heart one heart
Give of your voice
One voice
– One Voice, Patti Smith

Almost six years ago to the day, I wrote my first post for this blog under my own name. It has since been replaced by more recent posts about my everyday experience of borderline personality disorder (BPD) and music that uplifts me, posts that have been penned under an alias.

Since my 2014 post, I have experienced ups and downs, both upheaval and depression. Yet I felt unable to put any of it into words. Recounting my sometimes impulsive and irrational behavior and troubling feelings under my own name did not sit well with me. I feared an employer, a potential lover, or new friend might stumble upon my blog and learn of my trifecta of mental illness. I wanted to deliver the intimate news in person, not through a WordPress post.

There is nothing romantic about mental illness. Although various of my close and precious friendships have been borne out of psych ward visits and the mental health community on WordPress, there is nothing good about self-harm, suicidal ideation, self-loathing, or obsessive and intrusive thoughts. I have only shared these experiences with those closest to me. Yet I want to reach others who are suffering to have a form of support, a show of solidarity, hope, or at least the thought that they are not alone in their pain. That, and reducing stigma, are my goals with this blog.

But I’ve been wondering whether stigma can only truly be reduced or eradicated when you share your mental illness publicly? After all, it’s not something to be ashamed about. If you had diabetes or a broken leg, you wouldn’t think twice about talking about your ailments. The more people who publicly shared their struggles with mental illness, the more accepted and everyday it would become.

I used to be extremely private, and I only shared my diagnoses with a handful of loved ones. But more recently, I have been more open about it, sharing my mental health issues with my broader circle of friends. I have been surprised by the support and understanding I have received, and by the number of people who have mental health struggles of their own. It has made me realize how powerful mental health advocacy is in everyday life; it creates opportunities for open conversation and improves awareness.

Right now, I am only prepared to share my struggles openly with this broader circle of friends. I hesitate to share any of my diagnoses with strangers or acquaintances under my own name. Judgement, invalidating statements, and unsolicited advice worsen my symptoms, so I only share with people I trust and know. I am also reluctant to share details of my diagnoses in the workplace, as I have had mixed reactions in the past. I’ve been retrenched from a job, and at another, told to be ‘more resilient’, and that my mental health stood in the way of promotion. I had only shared my mental health status so reasonable adjustments, like part-time work hours, could be made for me.

On this platform, sharing my experiences, opinions, and rants anonymously allows me to write freely and be brutally honest, luxuries I didn’t have when I was writing under my own name. I realized that just because my real name doesn’t accompany my posts, it doesn’t mean that I am ashamed, and it doesn’t make my mental illnesses shameful. Writing these posts means that I am no longer silent, and the more voices breaking the silence, the better. Your voice might only reach your closest friend or significant other, but raising the awareness of only one or two people can still make a difference.

Do you share your illnesses openly or prefer to only share it with a few select loved ones? How has that impacted your mental health journey?

2 thoughts on “Fighting Mental Health Stigma Anonymously”

  1. I didn’t tell anyone initially when I was experiencing psychosis as I was terrified I might be admitted to hospital. However, on recovery, I felt it important to let close family and friends in, just so they were aware. But after that, I decided to let a few friends go because of their attitude “what you, mad?”, “you ain’t got mental health problems” or “why are you going therapy? are you going nuts?”

    These days, if someone asks about my past, I will tell them about it and how I still experience mental illness. I don’t see that I should have to hide or be afraid that someone might find out.

    And now, like you (and for the same reasons), I write — anonymously mainly to anonymise others.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I like that you can be open about your past when people ask. I think I am more comfortable with that now, but a few years ago I hid it from everyone except those (two or three people) closest to me. It’s liberating to be able to be upfront about mental health issues.

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