Recently, some people have been using the tag #StoptheStigma on social media outlets to raise awareness of the stigmatization of chronic pain patients.
It really bothers me. And here’s why:
The Stop the Stigma movement is one that aims to humanize those of us with mental illness issues. It seeks to normalize conversations about mental health and make those conversations more commonplace. Just like the tags we use in the arthritis community, it saves lives. It brings people together to help one another and to fight the misconceptions about their illnesses. The stigma associated with mental health issues tends to be the biggest reason why people don’t talk openly or get help.
Ultimately, those misconceptions can kill people.
I grew up with horrible anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. The three of those combined with living in pain from my Systemic JA and growing up in an abusive home actually led me to consider suicide at age seven.
I did not have people in my life who were mentally healthy. None of this was talked about in my family, save to pick on others.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one of every five adults lives with some type of mental illness. A study published in the Oxford Journal Rheumatology back in 2001 specifically says that a person living with RA is twice as likely to deal with depression than someone without a chronic illness.
These issues are very common in our chronic illness and arthritis communities. Mental health is key to how we deal with arthritis, and can affect our physical health heavily. I’ve worked on raising awareness of how these issues affect us through walks, speeches, and more.
So what’s the point? While I understand that the intention of using #StoptheStigma in the chronic pain world is a good one, the impact of its use is not.
It’s disrespectful to me, belittling my intense mental health issues.
It’s disrespectful to those struggling with their mental health. It lessens the battle that returning soldiers like my uncle and friends face. It minimizes the experiences of abuse and assault victims, those who have endured terrorism, and others.
It also removes a source of support for them by filling their space with unrelated information.
It’s disrespectful to the memories of people in whose name movements like this were started. This list includes far too many in the arthritis community and, if we don’t start talking about it more, that number will likely grow.
We don’t need to utilize a tag for a movement that already encompasses so much of what we deal with. We don’t need to conscientiously or unconscientiously co-opt a hashtag that a segment of the community is using to raise awareness on a different and equally important issue.