Speaking Your Truth: The Power of Sharing Our Mental Health Stories, by Em Betts

Speaking Your Truth: The Power of Sharing Our Mental Health Stories
By Em Betts, Program Coordinator, Jordan Porco Foundation

One of the most important ways we can begin to combat the stigma surrounding mental health is by sharing our own mental health stories, whether they are our personal stories or the stories of loved ones that have impacted us. Speaking our mental health truths is challenging. We may fear how our friends will react, the shame unjustly attached to our diagnoses, or the impact it may have on our professional lives as well as our social ones. We may even fear to share our stories because we think we’re alone in our experiences.

If you’ve thought about sharing your mental health story, but have been afraid to do it, I’ll let you in on a secret: At one point, every person you’ve ever looked up to for speaking openly about a stigmatized issue was afraid, too. I guarantee it. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with feeling scared. On the other hand, that fear is part of why sharing your story can be so powerful.

Think about it from a larger perspective: According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), about 18% of adults in the U.S. experience a diagnosable mental health condition in a given year. That’s over 43 million people, and that’s just the data from one year—the lifetime prevalence of mental illnesses is even higher. Imagine how many of those people have ever felt alone in their experiences.

Now, imagine how unlikely it is that any one of those over 43 million people actually is alone in what they’ve dealt with. It’s virtually impossible for that to be true.

That’s the thing about stigma: it creates a shame akin to solitary confinement, rendering people unable to reach out to others and find comfort in their shared experiences. It keeps mental health discussions in silos separated from public discussion (except when a celebrity comes forward about a diagnosis or dies by suicide and the news gets sensationalized, but that’s another issue for another time). Shame makes people feel isolated, like no one else could possibly relate to what they’ve experienced.

Shame feeds on silence.

The longer we stay silent about our experiences with mental illness, the stronger shame grows, the more fear we have about coming forward to share our stories, the more stereotypes get attached to mental illness, the more we are isolated, the worse off we are.

Speaking your truth is an incredible act of bravery. This is not to say, by any means, that those who don’t share their stories are weak. I know how strong you have to be every day to make it through. If you can’t share your story, that’s okay. Sometimes if you’re not in the right place, the act of writing or reading your story can be triggering, so you shouldn’t do it if it feels forced. If you you’re not comfortable sharing or have too much anxiety, just do your best to support and validate others who are sharing. That’s more than enough. Listen and be open, and let others’ stories remind you that you’re not the only one living with this.

In the end, that’s what it all boils down to: Sharing our stories and listening to others is one of the best ways to battle shame and stigma, because it reminds us that that we’re not alone. If we begin to build a culture of openness that celebrates honesty and speaking our truths, we will find ourselves more connected, more empathetic, more resilient, and less shadowed by clinical linguistics and offensive stereotypes. We can use our struggles, our pain, our strength, and our hope to make the world better for all of us. What better legacy could you ask for?

If you need support now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or, text “START” to 741-741 to get help 24/7 from the Crisis Text Line.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit the Jordan Porco Foundation’s resources page.

The opinions expressed in this blog are personal, and not those of the Jordan Porco Foundation. The information in this blog post is provided for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as mental health advice from the individual author or the Jordan Porco Foundation. You should consult a mental health professional for advice regarding your individual situation.