Akin Mental Health Blog

Fireside Chats, Hope, and Anti-Stigma

4 min read

I'm Charlie Davidson - a psychologist and Clinical Lead at Akin Mental Health. I can talk, train, or educate all day about recovery and mental health. This is part of my job at Akin. However, no amount of me talking will change the stigma that prevents us all from seeing and supporting recovery. People with lived experience have a unique and invaluable ability to change our minds and open new perspectives. Each individual you talk to who can disclose both challenges and successes with mental health will challenge stigma. It will give you the genuine hope, knowledge, and empathy necessary to support your loved ones and yourself in recovery.

That is the purpose of the Akin Fireside Chats, our lived experience speaker series. Please join us the evening of October 11th for the first Fireside Chat with Will Delaney.

Recovery is real and to be expected. It is also unpredictable, imprecise, and incredibly personal. (Check out Deborah Beckwin’s entry on Recovery from Mental Illness). Significant mental health challenges can give us tunnel vision. We (individuals, families, friends, etc.) focus on the big problems and immediate risks, which makes sense. However, we lose sight of how mental illness and recovery both happen to our lives and communities. This hyper-focus on staying safe for the short-term actually describes significant symptoms across diagnoses, from avoidance in anxiety to negative symptoms in psychosis.

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When we are able to lift our heads above the clouds of imminent symptoms or problems, that path forward is often clouded or blocked by stigma. Social portrayals, institutions, others in our community, and importantly, we ourselves lose hope and motivation due to stigmatized assumptions: that mental illness makes one unworthy or unable. When recovery is invisible, it is difficult to motivate or support ourselves or our loved ones with genuine hope.

Anti-stigma campaigns aim to make both suffering and recovery visible. Research evidence and common sense suggest that challenging deeply-ingrained stigma requires repeated, personal engagement with evidence contradicting stigma. Reading about or seeing videos of people who share their stories is a great start, but durable, genuine hope and anti-stigma come from getting to know and interact with people who exemplify both illness and recovery.

Akin is building resources to provide accessible and multi-format opportunities to engage with real people and narratives of recovery. It is represented in our blogs and resources for the Journey of Recovery lesson. Our Fireside Chats lived experience speaker series aims to bring together individuals with lived experience of both illness and recovery to tell their stories and interact personally with Akin members and interested members of the public. We hope to establish a community and tradition of regular, personal engagement with these amazing people and their stories.

When you attend an Akin Fireside Chat: Lived Experience event, you will gain a new perspective on what recovery can mean and empathy for the challenges it entails. Each speaker is unique, and with these experiences, you will gain new perspectives and motivation to hold genuine hope and support your loved ones earnestly with empathy.

Take home

  • Stigma blocks recovery and is a symptom in itself. We are all biased by stigma, and it is embedded all around us.
  • Real people can change our minds and behaviors, contradicting deeply-ingrained stigma.
  • Education, skills training, and support are key elements in recovery or supporting recovery. However, engaging with people who have lived experience, hearing new stories, and seeing the world through a new lens is irreplaceable.
  • There are many ways to support yourself and support your loved ones through mental health challenges. Talking to people with mental illness and recovery has the strongest, most unique effect for you and your loved ones.
  • This is why we are starting the Akin Fireside Chat series. They are open to the public. When you participate, you will gain new perspectives and genuine hope for your own and your loved ones’ wellbeing and your ability to be a conduit for recovery.
  • We hope you will take advantage of this opportunity and see how it changes your experience as a supporter. Please give us feedback, critical or positive, as we build toward this lofty goal.
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