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  • Charlotte, 10th Grader at Loudoun School for Advanced Studies

Breaking the Stigma Through Compassion and Acceptance

In today's world where judgment and insecurity dominate, it feels embarrassing to ask for help. In our day-to-day life, we fear judgment; when we refuse to ask a retail worker where an item is held, when we think we can excel in a class without asking questions, or when we argue with our friends over who will ask the waitress for ketchup. We reject the idea that we cannot do everything alone, so in our search for independence and our avoidance of prejudice, we stray from personal improvement and enter a race against society.

The fear of judgment and prejudice does not only hold us from asking questions in class, it removes any motivation we have to heal, whether it’s physically, intellectually, or emotionally. Imagine this: your best friend has a massive toothache, but she hates the dentist. She doesn’t like to be told she needs to floss more often. So, naturally, she avoids the situation that makes her feel uncomfortable. You, a supportive friend, urge her to get it checked out. You tell her that the dentist’s intent is not to ridicule her; you reassure her that their only intention is to maintain her dental health.

Dentistry has been in practice forever. Everybody knows that dental checkups are a necessity, but we still refuse to go because we don’t like to feel embarrassed. Now, apply this scenario to yourself, only in an emotional sense rather than dental.

Replace your friend’s toothache with your heartache, her dentist with societal pressure, your support with a friend who cares for your emotional well-being, and the bulletproof science of medicine with emotional recovery. This overwhelming combination is the stigma.

For centuries, mental health has been publicly viewed as taboo. Not until recently did science begin to favor the therapeutic approach to mental recovery, but the concept of community-based support is still widely unaccepted. Even popular culture’s efforts to promote suicide awareness and end the stigma are in their infancy. In a society with polar perspectives of mental health, those who speak up are judged for their vulnerability.

When our environments stigmatize mental illness, we feel so isolated in our struggles: just like we avoid the dentist who tells us to floss, we avoid the systems that invalidate our struggles.

The most successful awareness and recovery programs follow some variation of group structure. By being a part of a community where everybody endures similar challenges, support is infinite. At the Ryan Bartel Foundation, the community of professionals, volunteers, and attendees constantly validate and uphold each other. This environment of compassion and acceptance fosters a group of people that identify with each other's struggles, and love their peers just as much as they love themselves.

The stigma that comes with recovery is very present, but with your own community that accepts all parts of you, and supports your healing, the judgements disappear. Whatever your community may be, it is vital that you find support, acceptance, and connection within.


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