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Fighting Stigma One Story at a Time

Recently I watched with the rest of the country as Simone Biles pulled out of gymnastic events at the 2021 Olympics in Japan. Before that, Naomi Osaka pulled out of the French Open and there was a flood of conversation on social media about her mental health and whether she should have “pushed through” or not. More and more often, we are seeing famous people and celebrities who are letting the world know “It’s okay to not be okay.”

It can be difficult to let others around us know that we have lived experience with mental health, trauma, substance use and grief. When we share our stories, some people call into question our abilities. Some people try to evoke shame and embarrassment – as if somehow these lived experiences are our fault. Some people try to undermine us or ridicule or do more damage. This is how stigma lives and breathes. But I don’t want to talk about those folks.

The people I want to talk about are the ones who hear those stories and have their minds changed about what someone with a mental health challenge looks like or achieves; the people who grow in their compassion and empathy for others. I want to think about the young person who believes they are alone and just heard someone else say for the first time that they aren’t. I want to focus on the people who get inspired and brave – and they start to tell THEIR stories too because they want to help someone else. I want to bring into the room the people who feel vulnerable and hear in someone’s story a reason to stay here another day.

That’s what the power of story can do. It can inspire, console, include, and persuade. Our stories find our common ground and can unite us even when the details of our stories are different. Each time one of us with lived experiences is courageous and tells our stories, it makes it harder and harder for stigma to live on. It makes it more difficult for a bias to exist. Storytelling can change the world, one person at a time.

Right now, more than ever – we need to normalize the experiences of mental health challenges and trauma because we know so many are hurting. Right now, more than ever – we need to tell stories that celebrate inherent resilience and hope they are heard by the people who need to hear them.

So a big Cypress “thank you” to Simone and Naomi and others like them. To the people who tell stories – the ones who have large platforms like world-class athletes and those of us with smaller platforms like friend groups and co-workers and families. Because when you tell your story . . . you just never know who may be listening.

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