Active Minds Blog » Siobhain McGuinness Changing the conversation about mental health Mon, 12 Oct 2015 15:03:46 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Suicide Prevention Month: Combating Stigma with Compassion Mon, 21 Sep 2015 09:59:22 +0000

This post is part of a Suicide Prevention Month blog series. Read the other blogs here.

Active Minds mental health compassionI am currently a senior at the University of Nevada, Reno, majoring in English Creative writing, Philosophy, and Psychology Research. I am finally graduating from my university with all three majors after five years of school and battling my mental health illnesses.

I am a success story, and because of this, I wanted to share my experience.

I think it is important that people continue to change the conversation about mental health because it can help people who struggle, like me, succeed and overcome impossible hurdles to fulfill their goals. I think the most important thing about changing the conversation starts with humanizing the survivors and sufferers and demonstrating how vital it is to show compassion–even in the smallest ways.

Throughout my undergrad career, I had to withdraw from college twice and was institutionalized five times for suicide attempts, depression, borderline personality disorder, and an eating disorder between the ages of 18 and 21.

I was also struggling with a great deal of stigma and had to constantly put schooling on hold and trudge through the days not knowing what was wrong.

This caused me to feel very isolated. I started to fall behind in school and became increasingly unable to handle every-day stressors. I started to spiral down because reaching out didn’t seem safe, and going to a therapist didn’t seem like an option.

I stayed in school because my professors at the time offered academic and emotional support as they saw me struggle with mental health issues. They showed me compassion and hope and that made the difference.

My professors, such as Dr. Ashley Marshall, Dr. Steven Gerhke, Dr. Joe Calabrese, Professor Mary Miller, and Dr. Justin Gifford helped me cultivate a sense of personhood beyond my mental health illnesses. They helped me find my identity as an academic and writer, not as someone with a diagnosis or some stigmatizing label that had been assigned to me.

I believe the worst thing that someone can do is take away someone’s hope of recovery or achieving a dream. Sometimes hope is all we have. Hope allows us to hold on, and shaming someone when they are already struggling with invisible hardships does an incredible disservice to their personhood.

When people stigmatize those of us who struggle with our mental health, they don’t see the impact.

Because I had support of my professors, I found forward momentum and a purpose that I did not previously have. This caused me to have the courage to submit my poetry to the 2014 Sigma Tau Delta International Convention in Savannah, GA, an English Honor Society Conference.

My poetry was accepted to be presented at the conference, so when I went to Savannah, I fearlessly read my poems about BPD and anorexia, and was received with unexpected open arms.

For the past three years, I have written and published poetry about my mental health experiences. I was only able to fight against the stigma and succeed because of the wonderful people and professors I met in academia, and in my community, who showed me compassion. These people had a profound impact on me, and I think I stand as an example of what can happen when one is shown compassion and understanding instead of being stigmatized.

I lived and I thrived instead of getting bogged down in the darkness, and I owe all of that to the people who fought against mental health stigma with me.

If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Or you can text “Brave” to 741741 to reach Crisis Text Line.


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