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Getting Rid of the Guilt
Posted by
7th Jan 2015

Author Nina Bingham has written a reflective blog on the suicide of her daughter and how the stigma attached to mental health can be reduced if we become more comfortable talking about how we're feeling. If you have been affected by suicide, you may find our SANE on Suicide resource helpful.

Guilt is defined as: feeling responsible for wrongdoing. But isn't it interesting that we can feel guilt simply for doing something that someone else doesn't approve of? Guilt is a very confusing emotion. How do we know when it’s right to feel guilty?

Freud was the first psychoanalyst to explain guilt; he theorized it as a function of the Superego; that part of our mind which is our moral gatekeeper; the "voice" which helps us distinguish what is right from what is wrong. Freud said that when parental morality was modeled for us in childhood, we internalize it. This internalized voice, better known as our "conscience," then becomes the guiding force as we age.

The average person has what I would call an exaggerated sense of guilt. I believe this is because of the rules which society has imposed on us. As example, an unspoken rule of society is that mental illness is shameful, and therefore should be hidden. I'd like to explore this further, because at least in America, research tells us that 26% of Americans have been diagnosed with a mental illness. This number does not include innumerable people too afraid or ashamed to step forward.

Case in point: My daughter was 11 when her father died, and as a result she developed depression. She was 15 before she would admit she needed help, because she was terrified of being stigmatized. She didn't want to be seen as the "crazy girl" (her words). She'd only been on her anti-depressant for 3 weeks before she secretly stop taking it, and as a result, took her own life. She stopped taking it because she thought she looked too fat in a bathing suit, and was worried the medicine would make her gain weight. She didn't want to be labeled as mentally ill, and she didn’t want other girls calling her fat. America's obsession with unrealistic perfection is killing our children…but so is the stigma of mental illness. 90% of suicide completers are people who had a diagnosed mental illness. This should tell us that suicide completers are people who feel ashamed and misunderstood-afraid of being mentally ill because of the cultural stigma. So afraid they would rather not be here.

So how do we get rid of the stigma of mental illness? How does the parent of a child that took their own life (due to a mental illness like depression), get free of blaming themselves? If everybody does their part to reduce the stigma, that is, to educate others that it's a medical problem, not a weakness-perhaps those hiding their symptoms will feel safer talking about it. The best way to reduce the stigma is to get comfortable talking about your own symptoms. You see, stigma comes as a result of NOT talking about it, rather than talking about it. If everybody got comfortable talking about it, there would be no stigma.

The next time you're tempted to feel guilty about something, stop and take a real close look at what's causing the guilt. Is it yours to take? If you are feeling guilty because you have a mental illness, or your child committed suicide due to a mental illness, the time is now to stand taller than ever before, and to tell the world what is true: mental illness causes suicide, and you have nothing to be guilty for.

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