My Experience with the mental health stigma - Justyna Janus
I’m a 21 year old girl from Poland.
Middle class family.
As a child I used to undertake a lot of extracurricular activities and had very good grades. The best grades in the whole, small, village school. What would be a dream of many was my nightmare. My classmates were from disadvantaged backgrounds and I was always just a source of a free-homework for everyone. I was bullied for about 4 years. I was really shy so I did not really fight back, even though in my head I didn’t see it that way. This created a lot of trust issues in my later life, as the only friends I had always treated me like last resort. I had my first suicidal thoughts back then. I wanted to change school but I didn’t really speak up about why, so it never happened. I was so afraid of going back to school and being forced to spend the whole day with my schoolmates was sickening. I tried possibly every method of getting ill. Eating raw potatoes, trying to break my bones, sitting outside in snow with no clothes at night just to get pneumonia or tonsillitis. My frequency was terrible and I spent like 50% of the time at home, being constantly ill. This developed problems with my immune system that I struggle with till today.
What mental illnesses I went through? You name it. Social anxiety, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, eating disorders.
Even though primary school finished when I was 11 and I went to a different place with different people I always had something inside me that was holding me back. I tried to be fun and sociable but I was always terrified that other people laugh at me, look at me thinking I’m weird and judge me. I didn’t really address any of these problems, that were piling up and decreasing my self-esteem till I was in the UK at the university.
Mental health is a taboo in Poland. I haven’t hear a single thing about it during my whole education. No awareness campaigns, no talks at school, nobody in my family ever mentioning it.
I was sure I’m the only one who has these problems. That I’m the weird one and I deserve it. If it wasn’t just about me I would know about it right? I would never think about asking for help or talking about it to my parents. In general public opinion depression is “an excuse and a myth” and mentally ill people are nuts and weak.
I’m not the only one who experienced this. There is so many families that are not understanding the seriousness of mental health, where this topic is still taboo. There are communities where mental illness is not spoken about. In religious communities, being mentally weak is not being close enough to God.
This is why we suffer, we struggle in silence and we don’t see a way out. We don’t think about looking for help online, we don’t think about reaching out to anyone. Because we are ashamed and because we don’t think it’s a thing – that we are not the weird ones having problems with themselves. We start hating ourselves because of it, because life of everyone else seems so perfect. We don’t want to admit to being “weak” and “different” and even worse “crazy”.
This is why I speak up today. This is why I have founded Action for Reaction. This is why there is so much that still needs to be done. There is plenty of charities around, but we need people actively speaking about it, we need campaigns in schools and at universities, on social media and on the TV. Because if someone doesn’t know that mental illness is a common thing in the society they won’t even think about looking for resources available. We need to normalize struggling with mental health and normalize looking for help and trying to get better.
Sharing your experience doesn’t make you weaker, it makes you an inspiration to thousands of people who are still afraid to speak up, it makes you a figure encouraging families to speak with their kids about mental health, it makes you a person changing a world for better.
This is what we all should stand for. Educate yourself. Speak up. Take Action.