The following is a guest post from Maggie Bertram, the Program Manager for Student-Led Initiatives at Active Minds. Through campus-wide events and national programs, Active Minds aims to remove the stigma that surrounds mental health issues and create a comfortable environment for an open conversation about mental health issues on campuses throughout North America. The organization’s National Day Without Stigma is occurring on October 9 this year. The objective of National Day Without Stigma is to eliminate the shame and discrimination surrounding mental health disorders by creating communities of understanding, support, and help-seeking
When I began coming out to my friends and family during my junior year of college, I was a high-achieving student, compassionate friend, and model daughter. I had worked hard to cultivate an image of a successful, put-together woman. I had also already begun to shame myself. The homophobia I experienced internally and externally became a wall between who I had always been outwardly and who I now knew myself to be authentically. The wall was made of stereotypes, jokes, anti-gay slurs, and the perception that being a lesbian somehow made me “less than.” The wall was the stigma associated with coming out.
For the next several months I ran toward that wall in an attempt to scale it, knock it down, or find my way around it, and each time it knocked me down instead. My fight with that wall became an intense stressor that aggravated the mild anxiety and depression I had been experiencing for several years. Both spun wildly out of control.
By the beginning of the last semester of my undergraduate career, I had been diagnosed with three mental health disorders: anorexia nervosa, major depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. I remained a successful student and respected student leader, but had become incredibly irritable and cut myself off from all of the people who cared about me. I didn’t want to talk about it with them. I didn’t want their help with it. It was another wall, the wall of mental health stigma, that I would take on alone.
I kept saying, “I can do this on my own,” but each time I attempted to knock down those walls I failed. The only way to the other side was through a team effort.
I got the treatment I needed for my mental health disorders because of persistent, caring and supportive parents, friends, and university staff and faculty. They stood with me and knocked down mental health stigma. I also learned that my keys to staying healthy were rejecting shame, embracing my sexual orientation with pride, and surrounding myself with people who would do the same. Together, we broke through the coming out stigma. I returned to campus, graduated on time, and have dedicated my career to creating inclusive conversations about mental health on college campuses.
Now a staff member at Active Minds, Inc., I work with over 350 Active Minds chapters across the US to lead a campaign called National Day Without Stigma. This campaign is dedicated to eliminating shame and discrimination by creating communities of understanding, support, and help-seeking.
For many of us in the LGBTQ community, the journey to being our fully expressed and authentic selves is fraught with stress from the complexities of coming out. For those of us who also struggle with mental health challenges, the oppressing shame we feel surrounding both these matters can lead to feeling hopeless and even having thoughts of suicide. This year, I hope you will join us in a collective stand against the stigmas that prevent us from being our authentic selves, talking about our issues, and seeking help when we need it.
National Day Without Stigma will occur on October 9, 2012, and Active Minds, Inc. is inviting Campus Pride, and all students interested in moving past the stigma associated with mental health disorders, to join the campaign. There are two ways to get involved. First, find out if there is an Active Minds chapter on your campus. If there is, get in touch and volunteer to help out.