Discussion: Shame-Based Narratives and Mental Illness

It’s been a while since we have had a discussion. Have a seat. Let’s talk about the shame-based narrative that is prominent in discussions of mental illness.

The Assumption

Many people assume that if they “find out” about someone’s mental illness, they have the upper hand. I have encountered people shaming their significant others for coming from a family where mental illness is prominent.

I have also met people who shut down when I discuss my mental illnesses. Sharing how mental illness affects life, to me, is the most liberating form of expression, because mental illness drags you inwards. It makes it hard to communicate as fear of judgment collapses bridges.

It is this shaming that I want to discuss today. As people hear more about mental illness, the assumptions are that it’s a “snow flake” thing. Some people assume that is a weakness to be wired differently.

However, for the most part, the most damaging assumption I have noticed directed at people with mental illness is “get over it,” “you think you have it bad? Think of so and so,” or “you take pills, you have no excuse,” or straight up, “You have no excuse.”

Even worse, there is the assumption that mental illness means locking up the person in some psych ward for the rest of their lives. In saying things like this, the underlining message is that “normal lives” have no room for people with mental illness.

Doing this pushes people into seclusion, into staying mum about their mental illness, which simply allows the dialogue to be negative, and dishearteningly so.

But Maybe…

Maybe it’s time we view mental illness as a packaged deal. It’s not wholly negative, nor is it positive entirely. The thing to consider is that there’s nothing unequivocally good or bad. There’re elements of good and bad within every experience.

I was reading an article about a psychiatrist who was hopsitalized for six years due to her mental illness, and that this experience helped her become a more effective psychotherapist. But, the way patients talk about this past, it’s all about shame. “I know your secret.”

It’s as if having a mental illness delegitmatizes her status as a psychotherapist. But, the doctor shares that the hospitalization helped her with psychoanalysis. It helped her connect with patients.


The more we sweep mental illness under the rug, the more desperate people become to hide it. Suicide, self harm, secrecy, avoidance: these are just some of the coping mechanisms people will resort to.

No one wants to be dismissed as a professional person, as a romantic significant other, or as a friend, family member, because they’re mentally ill. And, yes, we can rephrase the word “mental illness” and say things like “Mood disorder,” sure. But, that does not remove the stigma and people haven’t stopped shaming others for being different.

Mental illness is not a death sentence. I remember way back in 2012, when I was told that I was very, very sick, I thought it’d be the end of my life. I was ashamed that I couldn’t have hidden my illnesses for much longer. Moreover, I was ashamed because I needed medication, and even with medication, things were really tough. I was ashamed of being admitted into a psych ward.

And, you know what? I think mental illness, and seeking out help, gives you a different perspective on life. To me, it’s made me more self aware and reflective. It’s the motivation for constant revamping and reshaping old habits into newer and healthier approaches to life.

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4 thoughts on “Discussion: Shame-Based Narratives and Mental Illness

  1. It’s very sad that some people view others’ mental illnesses as some sort of shameful secret to be exploited. I like what you said about how almost things in life, including mental illnesses, are not entirely bad or good, they have aspects of both. And it’s posts like this that are a great step forward in helping people understand <3

  2. I think when people shut down when you talk about it is because they don’t know how to respond. I see it often when I talk about my post partum depression. It is just something that was and is apart of my life right now. People often hesitate to call it what it is as well.

    I’ve never thought much about people thinking they have the upper hand when they know something about you like that, but now that I read this it reminds me when I once told someone in private that I had a depression and was taking medication, and then in a evaluation conversation for school she slammed it in my face.

    I love your last paragraph. <3

    1. I do agree, though, that people don’t know how to react to people having mental illness. Perhaps getting educated about it, or at least having an open mind about it, would help get the conversation going.

  3. *Hugs*

    While I’d say there’re things I’ve done – like blogging – that are both good AND stemmed from my mental health problems, I have to admit that there is 100% nothing good about depression/anxiety itself. You’re right though – it’s the experiences attached to that. We are PEOPLE, first and foremost. And people are messy and fuzz the borders between everything!

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