Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : July 12th 2017 Contents life A29
Wednesday, July 12, 2017 guardian.co.tt
Self-stigma is dangerous to your health
In the continuing World
Health Organization (WHO)
2016/17 campaign Depression:
Let's Talk, there remain a num-
ber of issues that work against
the invitation to talk. Among
those is the fact that many
people are cowed into silence
because of how others view
The basis for this WHO global
public health effort is the same as
for other illnesses or diseases, which
is, the clinical illness depression
threatens populations worldwide
at an epidemic level.
Public health campaigns such as
anti-tobacco, HIV/Aids, immu-
nisation against communicable
diseases, cancer, and many others
have been given designated days as a
means of drumming up internation-
al support and awareness. Some of
these enjoy overwhelming backing
and funding in many populations,
Mental health, though, does not
yet enjoy that vast support in many
populations because of stigma and
Paramount to the success of the
Depression: Let's Talk campaign
is the condition that people open
up and talk about their personal
struggles. Many of us who have
given campaign testimonials were
already at the forefront of efforts to
break the silence in our countries.
Many others, to their credit, took
opportunity to be open.
For as long as we choose to remain
silent though, the global struggles to
reduce the incidence and prevalence
of mental illness will be hindered.
Remaining silent however, is
tied to wider societal problems in
the way people view the illnesses
of the mind.
Much of what we believe is untrue
but it seems safer for people---espe-
cially those who need to seek health
solutions---to hold on to those mis-
Often, to their detriment, people
turn those wider societal misunder-
standings on themselves. Self-stig-
matising then possibly becomes the
most damaging matter when people
should take steps to seek interven-
tions for their mental ill health.
In a 2012 study, Patrick W Corri-
gan and Deepa Rao wrote: "Public
stigma is the most prominent form
(of stigma) observed and studied,
as it represents the prejudice and
discrimination directed at a group
by the larger population" (www.
They said: "Self-stigma occurs
when people internalise these pub-
lic attitudes and suffer numerous
negative consequences as a result."
Many of us react to ourselves from
those internalised negative views.
Somehow we are able to seek in-
terventions for other illnesses es-
pecially physical ones, and speak
openly of those without feeling
like "something is wrong with us."
Not so for the illnesses of the mind.
For me, while I have felt at times
that I was dealt a bad hand, and
while as a teenager I felt very con-
scious of my (very public) health
issue, I have been emboldened suf-
ficiently over the years to not fear
those conditions nor what they do
Though I have suffered debili-
tating days, months and years, I no
longer feel broken and incomplete as
in those earlier years of ignorance.
I remember my parents consider-
ing that I may have suffered a "spirit
lash" and while I went along with
all the prescriptions, I can tell you
now that I never believed that it was
a "spiritual" problem.
Even without the answers and
the scholarship I now have at my
disposal, I never embraced the idea
like my mother did.
But we lived in Moruga, home
of Papa Neeza, in the same village
with Mother Cornhusk, bending to
traditional medicine, folklore and
I recall vividly the years when
those influences caused me to pri-
vately entertain the misconceptions
about myself---that I was mad, that I
would not be able to function, that I
would not find love, and many other
fears fuelled by the myths.
The thing I know best about
self-stigma is the lowering of one's
self-esteem. No one who keeps a
distorted image of themselves can
enjoy the confidence that we were
created to have about ourselves.
When I self-stigmatised I also
felt better to be alone---away from
people---that awful isolation that
is the nemesis of mental ill health.
Corrigan & Rao wrote: "Self-stig-
ma functions as a barrier to achiev-
ing life goals. However, self-esteem
and self-efficacy can reduce the
harmful results of self-stigma."
They said: "Diminished self-es-
teem leads to a sense of being less
worthy of opportunities that un-
dermine efforts at independence
like obtaining a competitive job."
For me, my personal campaign
of empowerment remains the key
to living above the negativity. I've
disclosed for most of my years---
once I got past the fears of my
superstitious community and my
discriminating country---and it is
my intention to continue to do so.
My struggles are lighter when
people are aware of them; my bur-
den is shared when people care
One can only get the help one
needs if there is openness. The more
we talk, the smaller we can make the
voice of stigma and discrimination.
Depression is a prevalent public
health issue of frightening propor-
tions. It is worsened by the fact that
we cower in the face of stigma.
• Caroline C Ravello is a strategic
communications and media prac-
titioner. She holds an MA in Mass
Communications and is a candidate
for the MSc in Public Health (MPH)
from The UWI. Write to: mindful.
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