7 Steps to battle internalized stigma

As a Pakistani Canadian Therapist, I have observed that many people from the South Asian Canadian (Indian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi, etc.) community must face many layers of stigma about mental health as part of their journey to access therapy. If you are of South Asian decent and feel shame about accessing counselling therapy, you are not alone. The layers of stigma you may be facing can compound. Stigma in dominant Canadian culture and stigma in smaller cultural communities can become internalized. This can make it challenging to reach out for help when help is needed.  

Battling our own internalized stigma is not easy, but it can be an empowering experience. It can help us reduce the shame we feel associated with mental health concerns. When we feel less ashamed, it is easier to engage in self-care, to connect with our friends and families and to reach out for professional help when we need it.    

Step 1. Promote that mental health is equally as important as physical health:

It is the first step towards reducing mental health stigma. You can feel comfortable going to a physician if you have diabetes or high blood pressure. Similarly, mental health issues are also due to chemical changes in your brain and body. A counselling therapist, or psychotherapist could help alleviate these symptoms.  

Step 2. Develop an awareness of the diversity of mental health symptoms and conditions:

Mental health symptoms can range from anxiety, anger, guilt, shame, depression, communication problems, relationship problems, depression, fear, phobia, sadness, stress, trauma, self-esteem issues and many more. A counselling therapist, or psychotherapist can provide you support and skills to improve in each of these areas which is highly beneficial for your mental well-being.

Step 3. Normalize mental health problems:

If your house required repairs, would you consider it forever damaged? Would you ignore the repairs? Likely not. Similarly, we must reflect on the fact that “The problem is the problem, the person is not the problem”. For example, instead of saying, “I am depressed” we can say to ourselves, “Depression has had a lot of success in its attempts to take over my life.”

Step 4. Acceptance rather than avoidance:

Consider that a mail carrier continues to make attempts to deliver you a package until you acknowledge that you have received it.  We accept this, as it is often a requirement of their job. Our brain works in a similar way. If we accept and acknowledge the fact that we are having any mental health issue, we can take the next step to heal from the problem. Avoidance of the problem perpetuates it.

Step 5. Learn effective ways to overcome discrimination and devaluation by others:

It is very important to educate yourself regarding mental health issues and how people benefit from therapy. Then, you can deal effectively with other people who may try to shame you about your mental health. If you so choose, you can sharing your knowledge with them. Otherwise, you can use assertiveness and confident communication skills, to stand up for yourself rather than taking their comments personally.

Step 6. Choose empowerment over suffering:

The decision is yours. Taking a first step toward your own wellness is difficult at first, but highly beneficial towards leading a meaningful life with mental well-being in the future.

Step 7. Find a Safe Space for Self-Disclosure:

A safe space can help you to share your story, process the difficult feelings and experiences, find your personal strengths, and reconstruct meaning in your life. Distress and suffering need to be released from the mind and body. It’s important to find this safe space and a safe person to share with so you can move forward in your life.  

Often, it’s a matter of simply reaching out to a good professional counselling therapist  or psychotherapist for support. If this blog resonated with you, contact info@wholtherapy.ca, or call 902.270.5822/902.461.1721 to connect with Ayesha Adeel for an initial therapy session. You can schedule an appointment today to discuss your concerns!

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