Stopping the Stigma
July 25, 2016
We are happy to sit down with Nikki from Stopping the Stigma to find out about her courageous battle with the stigma that touches so many of us. From time to time, iPrevail will chat with leaders who show leadership in confronting problems head on, and support building a community that helps each other.
iPrevail: Could you introduce us to what inspired you to start Stopping the Stigma?
Nikki: Yes, of course! After a period of struggling with depression and suicidal ideation in April of 2016, I voluntarily admitted myself into a psychiatric hospital. It ended up being the best decision and really helped me on my road to recovery. Upon my release and return to school, I realized I didn’t want to hide the truth from anybody and I wanted people to know what had happened, so I posted to my personal Facebook and Instagram pages everything I had been going through. I received so much love and support… it was amazing. But the truly profound effect the post had on me was from the 36 private messages and texts that I received from friends, some whom I only knew because of my first year in college and others whom I’ve known and have been close to for literally my entire life, saying that they too have suffered from mental illness. These messages gave me chills; they detailed my friends’ similar struggles as they battled a hidden disease and some of them had even attempted to take their life multiple times. It stunned and saddened me that I had not known what some of my closest friend were going through simply because mental illness is such a hushed topic due to the stigma surrounding it. That’s why I was inspired to start Stopping the Stigma- to open the conversation around it and to normalize it. Friends should not be afraid to talk about what they are going through. If they can talk about their most recent cold or broken leg, then they should be able to feel open to express their feelings about their most recent anxiety attack. Stopping the Stigma is starting to open that conversation.
iPrevail: Where have you noticed the best strategies or actions to reduce the stigma?
Nikki: When you confront people with honesty and an open conversation. When I’m open to answer any and all questions, people tend to see that the subject of mental illness can be made more of a normal topic of conversation. Also, when you act like yourself, it naturally reduces the stigma because you are proving that you are more than depression or anxiety. When I have conversations with people who are judgmental towards those with mental health issues, I like to show them the real “Nikki” and carry out a casual conversation with them. We end up enjoying our time together, sharing laughs, and genuinely loving each others’ company. That’s when I suddenly bring back the topic that I have depression. Their reaction is amazing because they realize a person with mental illness is not defined by it, but rather a human being with one more battle to fight. So to continue to reduce the stigma, I encourage everyone to just be frank about your illness!
iPrevail: How do you see overall health encompassing mental and physical health?
Nikki: Health is health and therefore, mental and physical health should be treated the same.
iPrevail: What is a courageous story someone has told you?
Nikki: First off I would like to say that every single person who submits their personal stories to Stopping the Stigma has told their own extremely courageous story to me. They’ve all fought their battle in a different way and they are strong enough to not only admit to themselves and then talk to me, but then they are also brave enough to share with the world. I have to say one courageous story, or I should rather say one person, has stuck out the most for me. My cousin battles anxiety and phobia day to day, but even though she is presented with struggles, she continues to strive to love life. She believed she wanted to travel the world, so she hopped alone on a plane to stay in Spain for a while. Soon, phobic anxiety set in and she had to travel home. But on the way back, she was able to recognize the beauty of the experience and see that although she may not be able to leave home that often due to her struggles, she can still be her vibrant self. In her own words, she said “there’s too much GOOD in life to not see it, acknowledge it, love it”. It’s quite amazingly beautiful to see how hard she works and how strong she fights and how she has such a clearly striking outlook on life. To me, that is courage. To me, the fact that she looked deeply into herself and recognized that she couldn’t finish her trip abroad took courage. To me, the knowledge she gained from the ordeal that she would never be defined by her illness, just challenged by it, is the most courageous story of them all. It’s an inspiration to be as brave as she is. To face your mental illness everyday and say, this is me but it will not overpower me today.
iPrevail: How important do you think it is for people to have the chance to have anonymous chats if something is on their mind or if they just simply want to chat with someone?
Nikki: I think it’s incredibly important to talk to someone, especially when dealing with something as sensitive as mental health. For most people, it is really hard to get comfortable enough to recognize it within themselves, let alone talk about it with someone else. It takes an unbelievable amount of courage to share your story and your struggles publically. Therefore, the idea of anonymity is fantastic as it allows those who are battling to have an outlet without having the added pressure of bringing someone else into the battlefield with them. It also allows them to feel secure until we can successfully have a chance at reducing the stigma surrounding mental health.
iPrevail: Who are some role models or inspirations for you in this field?
Nikki: People that I met in the hospital because although they are still struggling day to day just like me, they are still here and we are in this together. In fact, I made a pinky promise with two of the girls that we would stay alive for each other, and their battles inspire me to this day. They both have taught me different coping skills, quotes, and insights to life that continue to motivate me to explore this field and life in general.
iPrevail: Where can people find out more about you and your work?
Nikki: In terms of me and my work around mental health, you can find out more from the Facebook or Instagram pages for Stopping the Stigma. I just recently started the campaign in June so there’s not much to find yet! I’m hoping to expand it. I keep my personal pages private but people can find out more about me and my journey through gocrimson.com or twitter.com/Harvardh20polo where I can be found playing division 1 water polo for Harvard University. Go Crimson!