February 25, 2016

By Luna Greenstein

bevocal.pngSharing your personal journey takes strength. It requires bravery to open up about something that is not only deeply personal, but also could potentially change the way that others perceive you. You may ask yourself, why even bother mustering the strength just to take a risk? Well, there are actually many reasons why the risk is worth it and here are a few.

Connect with Others

Have you ever felt that you were the only person going through the hardship of your symptoms? It’s quite common to enter into that state of mind. But the truth is, many other people are out there who understand and empathize with what you’re going through (studies show that about 1 in 5 people in the U.S. population has a mental health condition). Sharing your story is like reaching out to those people and allowing them to connect with you. Being able to relate with other people who have experienced and potentially overcame similar struggles as you can ensure that you are not alone and that recovery is always possible.

Reduce Societal Stigma

When someone is taking the time to understand what it’s like to live with a mental health condition, reading the many personal stories out there is a great way for them to learn. It can help them to realize how common mental illness really is, recognize that it isn’t the fault of the person and stop them from defining people by their mental health condition. Each individual who begins to perceive mental illness from a more educated lens will in turn contribute to the overall reduction of stigma on mental health issues.

In order for the general population to make these conclusions, personal stories have to populate our social spaces, both online and in-person. Sharing your story encourages others to do the same: normalizing it makes it less intimidating and scary for others. You don’t have to feel ashamed by your mental health journey. It is a part of who you are that is worth sharing with other people.

Create Change

Personal stories have the power to move people, and moving certain people, such as influential government officials, can be a catalyst for change. People have been stepping up to the podium to advocate for mental health reform in order to convince members of the government that change is necessary.

For example, NAMI IOOV presenter, Hakeem Rahim, testified before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee during a hearing they held last month. Hakeem bravely shared his personal struggle with bipolar disorder in order to help pass the Mental Health Reform Act. In his testimony, Hakeem concluded by stating, “My journey does not represent the full breadth of the experience living with mental illness, however my presence here does give a face to the millions of Americans struggling, striving and thriving with mental health conditions. Recovery from mental illness should be an option for all.”

Another example is when a courageous young woman shared her personal experience living with schizophrenia and persistent auditory hallucinations during the Recovery After an Initial Schizophrenia Episode (RAISE) Congressional briefing several months ago.

Lastly, singer/songwriter, Demi Lovato, who has opened up about living with bipolar disorder on many occasions, asked America to join her in speaking up for mental health as part of her initiative to Be Vocal. The response was inspiring as 120 people submitted their personal stories in order to help change the conversation around mental health. The Be Vocal initiative compiled these stories into a video montage in order to encourage others to share their stories as well.

Opening up about your mental health condition is one way that you can help contribute to building a movement around mental health. There are many places you can share including NAMI’s two story-sharing platforms: Ok2Talk and You Are Not Alone. Wherever you decide to share, just know that you can be the one that makes a difference. 

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