Personal Stories

Practicing What I Preach: #IAmStigmaFree

I have had mental health issues since I was in middle school, but I never understood the role of stigma in mental illness until I started interning for the NAMI HelpLine.

I first exhibited obsessive compulsive symptoms when I was 13 and I kept it a secret for as long as I could. After a few months I couldn’t hide it any longer and tearfully confessed what was happening to my mother. I begged her not to tell anyone. She understood and got me the help I needed, sessions with a wonderful psychologist who helped me control my symptoms and my underlying anxiety. The shame I had for my issues were overwhelming. I didn’t realize that feeling ashamed was a result of social stereotypes and stigma until I started volunteering with the HelpLine.

I am now a senior in college, and my symptoms have been controlled for a very long time. I’ve worked at the HelpLine for over a year now, and understand that my shame, which was worsening my symptoms and prevented me from getting help through high school, was associated with stigma. The social stereotypes and barriers associated with having mental illness were so pervasive that it reached me at a profound level, even as a child.

I have taken the stigmafree pledge with pride and have become passionate about fighting the unfair stereotypes toward people who have mental illness. My newfound perspective was tested in a psychology course last month. The professor asked the class if anyone had experience in a talk therapy setting. I looked around the classroom and saw that none of my classmates were volunteering. I avoided eye contact with my professor, hoping he wouldn’t call on me. I then realized that I was hiding again. How could I pledge being free of stigma if I was too ashamed to share my own experiences? If I wasn’t brave enough to share that I’ve received mental health treatment, I was just an enabler reinforcing societal stigma. I needed to show that there was no reason to be ashamed, because it is truly what I believe. I raised my hand.


Let others know that there is hope and understanding about mental health. Together, we can become stigma free. Take the pledge.