Suicide - Let’s Talk About Stigma Like It’s a Flavor of Ice Cream
By Lynn Patton; CEO of the Matthew Patton Foundation
Let’s Talk About Stigma Like It’s a Flavor of Ice Cream
Hello everyone. I hope you all had happy holidays. Holidays at our house are never completely happy because we are missing a very important person, my son SGT Matthew Scott Patton, who died by suicide. There were many reasons why he did this and one of them was “stigma.” This article is the start of a seven-part series about stigma and mental health issues where stigma always has a starring role.
Stigma is much more complicated than you might think. There is self-stigma whereby the person self-fulfills a false notion about a nonexistent condition. For example, one may believe and accept they are incompetent and therefore forgo opportunities such as obtaining an education. I also believe that self-stigma can cause one to ignore a condition such as depression to avoid other types of stigma called associated stigma, anticipated stigma, and social stigma.
Associated stigma is the stigma some families and friends face if their loved one has a mental health disorder. Associated stigma puts more pressure and burden on the person with the mental heath diagnosis if people pull away just when the person struggling needs them the most. Why do they pull away? Because they face blame, worry, and judgment that they caused the illness and then did not seek treatment for their family member or friend sooner. They may feel shame and think “guilt by association”, meaning if I hang around with someone with depression I may “catch” it or people will think I have depression, too. This results in poor quality of life for all involved because they suffer negative emotions such as sadness, frustration, and embarrassment. What can this lead to? Anticipated stigma.
Anticipated stigma is exactly what the word anticipated means. The person with the diagnosis and their family and friends expect the stigma described above whenever they attend any public event. Thus, they may conceal their loved ones diagnosis, avoid social events, and worse, stop treatment. What is to blame for all of this: social stigma.
Social stigma can be deadly as it stops people from getting the treatment they need to survive and for all to live a better quality of life. Social stigma by definition is a set of presumptive stereotypes about those with mental illness that lead to prejudice and discrimination because of fear and lack of knowledge about mental illness. There are those that believe that someone with mental illness will pick up a gun and cause massive deaths when in fact they are more likely to hurt themselves (e.g., cutting, substance use, and suicide). We need to change these erroneous beliefs. We need more education about mental health issues and we can do this by talking about it.
People look at me strangely when I say lets talk about mental illness like flavors of ice cream: depression is chocolate, substance use is strawberry, PTSD is vanilla, etc. Does anyone get my point? I am saying let’s talk about mental illness like we talk about something as ordinary as ice cream. Let’s talk about mental illness without the fear of stigma, so the real facts are out there not the fallacies that create fear and foster ignorance. I will start first. Matthew had many flavors of ice cream: depression, multiple prior suicide attempts, involuntary commitment before he joined the Army and severe substance use, probable TBI and PTSD, and multiple suicide attempts with a successful suicide on May 13, 2013, while active-duty. As for me, I too have many flavors: depression, seasonal affective disorder, general and social anxiety disorder, PTSD, sleep disorder, and complicated grief. See that wasn’t so hard, especially knowing hundreds will be reading this. Why? Because I feel no shame. I am a Master’s prepared registered nurse, who started a nonprofit called the Matthew Patton Foundation from the ground up less than two years after my son’s death and we have accomplished a lot with little funding. Mental illness doesn’t stop me and it never will.
Let’s get the conversation going. What are your flavors?
Can anyone guess the flavor of TBI?????????