I really should be more careful. Last post, I fell into the trap negative thinking, mourning a superb runner I no longer am. And while, yes, self-deprecation is all the rage today, a closet door now hides my sneakers and sunny days do something regrettable to my psyche. I’m flirting with what Distinguished Professor of Psychology Patrick Corrigan calls the “Why Try Effect.”
Generally associated with the stigma surrounding mental illness, “‘Why Try’ is a variant of modified labeling theory,” Corrigan writes, “that […] also suggests avoidance as a behavioral consequence of devaluation. When people perceive devaluation, they may avoid situations where public disrespect is anticipated.” As a result, self-esteem starts to evaporate and the path to achievement fades from view. Why try, after all, if shame and rejection lie just around the corner?
And that thinking begins with public perception. When myths spread about individuals facing mental illness--that they are dangerous and shouldn’t be trusted, for example--awareness of those myths can lead to agreement by the most vulnerable among us, which they then apply to the self, causing further harm. Think of it as a chain of increasingly hefty links that ends in leg irons.
Point of fact, a recent study reveals that 46% of respondents said they would be embarrassed to seek help from a psychiatrist, 38% would be embarrassed to see a psychologist, and 34% would be embarrassed to talk to a counselor. So damaging is stigma’s influence that researchers argue it is “a central driver of morbidity and mortality at a population level”.
In light of such frightful statistics, my comparing first run blues with something as destructive as self-stigma is sorely insufficient. There are no myths swirling about me in sphere of public opinion, I neither perceived nor suffered any public disrespect, and I certainly will run again in the future. More than anything, the analogy was an attempt at what Lee, Slater, and Tchernev refer to as “lowering [my] status,” thereby reducing “resistance to a message that may be perceived as threatening.”
Sure, the adjective “threatening” does seem a touch serious, though the authors’ intention is simple enough: relatability through humor. It can go spectacularly wrong, however. Take, for example, Slate.com’s You’re Doing It Wrong, a column whose content is as useful as it is self-righteous. The sheer length of nose over which each sentence peers down at me stirs a fight-or-flight response deep in my chest. I have enough self-doubt, thank you very much. I don’t need more from a blog involving cranberry sauce.
And yet, the very notion of negativism is at the heart of where I’m going with all this. Whether internal or external, by blog or nightly broadcast, it can influence the fabric of our everyday. At best, it’s a Pinterest parlor trick. At worst, it forms an impenetrable barrier separating those in need from the life-saving treatments they deserve. Consequently, the life expectancy of individuals experiencing mental illness is 20-25 years less than individuals who do not.
Thankfully, there is a serious adjective for that fact, too: unacceptable.
It is why we run.
It’s why we inaugurated the Mental Health 5K in 2010, and it’s why will be running again May 25th: to empower individuals to achieve recovery and promote personal and community wellness through an accessible, comprehensive, integrated and evidence-based system of mental health care.
That I limped my son and me around the neighborhood a few weeks back is merely preparation.
 Self-Stigma (as defined by disabilityrightsca.org): By internalizing negative beliefs, individuals or groups may experience feelings of shame, anger, hopelessness, or despair that keep them from seeking social support, employment, or treatment for their mental health conditions.
 Barney, L., Griffiths, K., Jorm, A. &, Christensen, H. (2006). Stigma about Depression and Its Impact on Help-Seeking Intentions. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 40, 51-54.
 Hatzenbuehler, M., Phelan, J. & Link, B. (2013). Stigma as a Fundamental Cause of Population Health Inequalities. Amercian Journal of Public Health, 103, 813-821
 Colton, C. & Manderscheid, R. (2006). Congruences in Increased Mortality Rates, Years of Potential Life Lost, and Causes of Death among Public Mental Health Clients in Eight States. Preventing Chronice Disease: Public Health Research Practice and Policy 3, 1-14.