In 2015, my friend Jessie approached me and some others with an idea to start an advocacy group in our hometown. We would focus on suicide and drug abuse—issues that at many times in recent years have felt like they are plaguing our community. I immediately jumped at the chance. I thought, “This is great! Let’s work with the community to get people educated about what is going on! Let’s erase the stigma!” That was nearly three years ago, and what I began to quickly realize is that I had a lot to learn.
This month, you’ve heard from my fellow Makeshift co-founders as well as our friends about some of their personal stories and journeys. This is the last story in our Mental Health Awareness Month series and I’m going to talk about the stigma I have had surrounding mental health and drug abuse.
I know that sounds pretty bad. I literally co-founded an organization whose goal is to break the stigma and bring our community out of the darkness.
But to be frank, I find it hard to talk about these topics. I have anxiety when it comes to discussing tough issues like suicide and overdose. When it comes to uncomfortable situations, I tend to ignore them as best I can or I spin them to a positive. When I do talk about them, I agonize about whether I said the wrong thing or hurt someone’s feelings. It’s easy to tell others that we need to “shed the stigma” and “have the difficult conversations,” but for me, and I imagine many others, it has been a struggle. And it’s ok to admit.
So what can we do? How do we work to remove the stigma in ourselves so that we can move forward, together?
I think the answer is different for everyone, but here are some things I’ve been working on since we founded The Makeshift Movement:
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions, even if it’s just to ask someone who has experienced loss or struggle how they are. A little thought goes a long way.
- Do listen - I’m not an expert, but lending an ear is one of the most valuable things you can do.
- Do value that mental illness can be just as detrimental as physical illness. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt just as much.
- Do educate yourself by reading personal stories. Hearing what others have been through and how they dealt with those situations can be the best education when it comes to learning about mental illness and drug abuse. Everyone’s story is different and everyone deserves to be heard.
Everyone’s story is different and
everyone deserves to be heard.
While I’m still learning, these have helped me to be more comfortable and less anxious during difficult conversations. I am grateful to everyone who has shared their stories with us because it has helped me open up more.
The Makeshift Movement is as much for those in our community who haven’t experienced personal loss or struggle or hurt from suicide and drug abuse as those who have. The fact is, we all need to work together if we are going to make a change in our community.