New Post at Health Central on Fighting Stigma

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I’ve published at Health Central’s called Fighting Stigma in the Military and the Stigma Within. I’ve tried to link the stigma anyone with a mood disorder can encounter in everyday life with the stigma soldiers face under the special conditions of military service. The military leadership is conducting a campaign against stigma right now because fear of the consequences of openly seek help is keeping hundreds of thousands of soldiers with PTSD and depression out of the mental health care system.

As I was writing about this, I realized that there are two kinds of stigma. One is external, encountered in the attitudes of people who blame anyone with depression for personal failings. That type of stigma has forced many of us to think long and hard about revealing a mood disorder in the workplace because of potential career damage as well as difficulty with co-workers. Not surprisingly, fear of harming or ending a military career is one of the big factors keeping soldiers from seeking mental health care.

The other form of stigma is internal. However infuriated we might get with the “idiots” who refuse to understand what we’re going through, it’s quite likely that deep inside we agree with them. There are a lot of active duty soldiers and veterans who never seek help for just that reason – they’ve internalized the stigma. Military training and the demands of living in a combat zone have conditioned them to strip away all distractions, especially any negative emotions. That leads many soldiers either to deny that they have any emotional problems or to condemn themselves for weakness if they can’t handle them.

What especially resonated with me when hearing the stories of recovering veterans was how unfamiliar they had become with the experience of deep emotion. In a powerful video, one young marine talked about having to relearn what to do with those feelings. He was so used to keeping them out of his life that he didn’t know what behavior was possible or appropriate when he could finally let people know that he felt angry or happy. Having gotten that far, he then had to ask: What do I do with that?

His confusion brought me right back to my teenage years when I lived in a similar state. I didn’t know what deep feelings were. When they inevitably forced themselves back into my life, I was at a loss about how to live with them. I put down one sentence in the Health Central post that opened the door to a big issue I know I’ll have to write about a lot more.

“Emotions become strangers when you believe your survival depends on forgetting that you have them.”

I hope you’ll read the post at Health Central and let me know what you think.

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