Mental Illness Is Not Your Entire Identity

March 9, 2020 Laura A. Barton

A misconception bred by mental health stigma is your mental illness is your entire identity. It can even go as far as suggesting there is no separating you from it. While mental illness and mental health struggles are a part of who we are, they don't completely make up our identity.

How Stigma Equates Mental Illness with Personal Identity

On top of feeling like disclosing a mental illness is a confession, once you've done so, it can also feel like you'll be equated with it from now on. And since stigma says mental illness is your identity, that can be hard to shake.

Think about how many times you've heard phrases like "she's that crazy girl" or "he's bipolar." When used like this, language likens the person to the illness, which is why person-first language has such an important role in combatting stigma. ("The Language that Defines Mental Illness")

Additionally, being an advocate in the mental health sphere and being honest about having mental illness can also contribute to this feeling like that's all that makes up the entirety of your identity. This is something that I've personally thought about.

Who Am I Without My Mental Illness?

"Who am I if I stop talking about my depression, anxiety, and excoriation disorder? Who am I without my mental illnesses?"

Generally speaking, I see my mental illnesses as a part of who I am, but not my entire identity. Yet, I still have these questions from time to time since I do speak about my experiences and am known, to an extent, for that. If I were to stop all that, would I still be me?

Yes, I am still me whether people know about my mental illnesses or not. If I chose to never speak about them again, my overall identity would still be intact.

I wonder how much of it comes back to stigma saying mental illness equates to identity. I use to be so terrified to even admit to myself, let alone anyone else, that I struggled, and it was all because I didn't want to be thought of as my illnesses. Since I saw them as a negative, taking them on meant putting a negative filter on who I was.

It's ironic that it's now the opposite situation, where I don't feel that fear at all, yet I still think about mental illness and identity. I feel it all circles back to the same thing: the stigma that says your sickness is who you are.

You Are More Than Your Mental Illness

I've come to the conclusion that the thoughts I have partially stem from the connections I've made by being open about my mental health struggles. After spending years alone in silence, opening up about my mental illnesses connected me with wonderful people who I could relate to. Part of me seems to think that if I stop talking about this part of who I am, I'll lose those people, too.

Thinking about it though, these people aren't my people because I feel depression, experience anxiety, or pick my skin. Although those are where we initially found common ground, we've stayed connected because of more than that. I don't see my friends as their illnesses, so why would they see me as mine? We're friends because of who we are overall, not only that piece of our identities. ("You Are More than Your Mental Illness Symptoms")

Despite what stigma says, even if a portion of your identity includes your struggles, you are so much more than your mental illness.

APA Reference
Barton, L. (2020, March 9). Mental Illness Is Not Your Entire Identity, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 21 from

Author: Laura A. Barton

Laura A. Barton is a fiction and non-fiction writer from Ontario, Canada. Find her on Twitter, FacebookInstagram, and Goodreads.

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