Ending the Stigma Takes All Our Voices – Every Day and Every Month of the Year
National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day is April 2nd. International Talk Like A Pirate Day is September 19th. Ask a Stupid Question Day is September 28th, but there’s no such thing as a stupid question so maybe there’s no such thing as Stupid Question Day.
We have a day for everything but for the really important stuff we give a month. May is Mental Health Awareness Month. And May ends this week. So now what? Do we take the next 11 months off and not talk about mental upkeep?
As a sufferer of anxiety - or as I see it, a willful confronter of anxiety - I have a hard time understanding why mental health is something we have to remind ourselves to be aware of. I don’t have to tell my 3-year-old to remember to ask for dessert, she’s doing it no matter what. Life is serving up all of us some mental-funk-a-la-mode EVERY DAY, so we better get a fork. And better yet, we better have done the workout beforehand so we can take in the calories.
A sufferer of anxiety: I just said it out loud as I was writing it and I need to say this… all that means is HUMAN BEING. All of us are in it. So today - on this, the last day of the MONTH of MENTAL HEALTH! ;) - I ask you to consider how it's all of our humanity, every day.
Today, let us consider how the stigma attached to mental health affects us all and locate our ourselves in all that. Let’s wrestle with the fact that stigma can be twofold: from the outside- the prejudice and harsh discrimination our culture impresses upon us/how we view people other people - and from within, the prejudice in which we can turn against ourselves.
And let’s consider how that stigma feeds negative self thought and how it can dominate private conversation. And how easy it is for that stigma to then bleed into public perception. Then, most alarmingly, how that public perception can create public policy. We have to recognize the reality of that and fight that.
We have to use our voice and shout it down. Every day.
And when our voice is not there we have to take time, seek support and let somebody else use their voice for us.
I think of all who are in a place right now where they’re wondering how to move forward. Or even just move. Here’s Michael Phelps - the most accomplished Olympic Athlete ever talking about his battle with depression: “I put myself in an uncomfortable position that I’d never been in before... and I got better.”
May we all find comfort in the uncomfortable and the grace to know that it’s ok to not be ok every day.
And may we find the power to turn this spotlight on the darkness every day.
Tony Reali hosts ESPN’s “Around the Horn” daily 5pm EST. He is also a correspondent for “Good Morning America.” He lives in New York City with his wife Samiya and daughter Francesca.