Stigma Fighters: Changing the Scope of Mental Health, One Stigma at a Time

From the Show: Naturally Savvy
Summary: The stigma attached to mental health disorders can leave you suffering in silence.
Air Date: 2/18/15
Duration: 10
Host: Andrea Donsky, RHN and Lisa Davis, MPH
Guest Bio: Sarah Fader
Sarah Fader is the CEO and Founder of Stigma Fighters, a campaign platform that encourages individuals with mental illness to share their personal stories. She is an author and blogger, having been featured on Psychology Today, Huffington Post, HuffPost Live, and Good Day New York. Sarah is a native New Yorker who enjoys naps, talking to strangers, and caring for her two small humans and two average-sized cats. Like six million other Americans, Sarah lives with panic disorder. Through Stigma Fighters, Sarah hopes to change the world, one mental health stigma at a time.
Stigma Fighters: Changing the Scope of Mental Health, One Stigma at a Time
If you've ever had an anxiety or panic attack, you know how debilitating and scary it can be, especially if you're experiencing it for the very first time.

You may also feel alone.

Special guest and founder of Stigma Fighters, Sarah Fader, suffered that way for much of her late teenage and early adult years. She had lived with panic disorder since age 15.

It was only after she had children that Sarah was able to step back and recognize she didn't have to suffer in silence; nor would her kids if they ever developed anxiety or any other such affliction.

Stigma Fighters is an online presence where individuals with issues like anxiety, depression, PTSD, schizophrenia, OCD, and Borderline Personality Disorder can share their stories and be vocal about their disorders. 

The organization is also moving forward with an educational campaign to help those around the country who are suffering.

Listen in as Sarah shares more about Stigma Fighters, what led her to develop this idea, and how you can take part.

RadioMD Presents:Naturally Savvy | Original Air Date: February 18, 2015
Hosts: Andrea Donsky, RHN and Lisa Davis
Guest: Sarah Fader

LISA: Andrea is off today. A few months ago, I had a book that I co-edited and published called Easy to Love but Hard to Live With: Real People, Invisible Disabilities, True Stories and people with mental illnesses or Autism spectrum disorder, dyslexia, ADHD, anything you look at the person and you can’t tell. So I wish I had known this back when I was putting my book together, but now she has an anthology coming out. She is the fantastic Sarah Fader who started Stigma Fighters.

Hi, Sarah.

Oh, it’s so nice to have you on, Sarah. This is such an important topic. If you don’t mind, tell us a little bit about yourself, your own personal experience with mental illness and when you decided that, you know what? We need to share our stories to make a difference.

SARAH: I am 35 years old. I have lived panic disorder for my entire adult life. I started having panic attacks when I was 15 and I didn’t know what they were. I just knew that I was experiencing severe symptoms of racing heart and I felt very fearful of what I was experiencing. Luckily, I do have a mother who copes with anxiety and so she was able to guide me through and direct me to help. I got into therapy very quickly but I still lived in silence for the majority of my teenage years and my adult life until I had children and I started to reflect on what it would be like for them if they were to grow up with an anxiety disorder or depression. How would they feel about living in silence? And that’s when I decided that I wanted to share my story publicly about living with panic disorder. So, I wrote about it on the Huffington Post—on their “Healthy Living” section and I received tremendous feedback from all over the world about my story and people saying, “Thank you for being so honest,” and “I live with anxiety,” and “I’m so glad that you’re able to speak up so candidly.” What it made me think was that there is no place--or there was no place--for people to be able to share their story about living with mental illness. So, I created Stigma Fighters. StigmaFighters.com began as a blog series where people could share their stories about living with schizophrenia, PTSD, depression, anxiety, OCD, borderline personality disorder. We have a collection of essays that range about just so many wonderful journeys and people speaking freely about these conditions. These invisible illnesses, as you mentioned before. So, I’m very happy that people have a place to be vocal about these issues. Then, I actually decided that I wanted to make Stigma Fighters come off of the internet and become a non-profit organization. I wanted people to go into high schools and colleges and speak about mental illness and that is the next step for Stigma Fighters. So, we are in the process of obtaining our 501(c)(3). We’ve filed and, in the meantime, we are publishing an anthology of stories from the website with Bookthrope. So, I’m very excited about that.

LISA: Oh, I am so excited about that it as well. You know, I grew up with somebody very close to me who had agoraphobia and I would say, “You should just tell people, you know, why you can’t go the party,” and she’d be like, “What? I can’t. They’re not going to understand.” I think maybe I’m unusual or something because I was like, “Well, just tell them. What if you had diabetes, right?” But, it doesn’t work that way in our society, does it? Unfortunately.

SARAH: It really doesn’t and when I was younger, I used to have a litany of excuses as to why I could not attend events. I would just make things up because I wasn’t comfortable telling people, “It’s because I have anxiety.” It’s not—or, it wasn’t—socially acceptable to say that. I do have somewhat of a struggle with social anxiety as well, so I can relate to that agoraphobia story. I think the dialogue is changing now. I think people are more willing to talk about mental health. Obviously, there’s still stigma, but I think that we are working so hard, especially here at Stigma Fighters, to stop people from being silenced and being able to say, “You know what? I can’t hang out tonight because I’m feeling anxious and I’m feeling like I need to spend time by myself. I don’t feel like I can be around other people at the moment.”

LISA: That is so important, Sarah. It makes such a huge difference. What are some natural things that you do to help your own anxiety? Or, what have you heard that has worked for other people as well?

SARAH: I’ve practiced mindfulness meditation since I was about 17. It was the only thing that helped me with anxiety when I was younger. I was in therapy but I was not, at the time, on medication and it was a game-changer for me. Meditation is essential for people that have anxiety. It is so important because it reminds you that you are in your physical body and you can come back to basics. You can remember that, even though you are experiencing physical symptoms of anxiety, you will be okay and you are still breathing and you are still alive and you will get through this. Meditation is just absolutely wonderful.

LISA: Oh, that’s great. You know, explain panic disorder for people who aren’t really familiar with what that exactly means.

SARAH: Panic disorder is an anxiety condition in which you feel a threat. So, you feel that something is threatening you and you’re experiencing racing heart and chills. The three things that are associated with a panic attack are fight, flight or freeze. So, you’re going to feel like you need to run away, fight it or you’ll freeze and that is how you feel during a panic attack.

It is as if you have a bear chasing you but there is no bear. It is extremely terrifying to experience it. To experience a panic attack, you feel alone. You feel like you cannot control what’s happening in your body. There are so many physiological symptoms associated with anxiety or panic. If you don’t know what you’re experiencing, it can be very, very, very scary.

LISA: You know the person I mentioned earlier that I grew up with who I was close to, she said it felt like you were going to die. Like it was just absolutely horrendous. So, I know that it can be so scary.

What have you learned through some of the stories? Has it made you feel less alone? Does it give you hope? Give us some of the things that have come out of this for you.

SARAH: I find all of the stories on Stigma Fighters inspiring because it shows me that we are not alone even if we think that we are the only person experiencing depression, loneliness, anxiety, OCD. It reminds me that all those years I felt isolated, look at all the people around me that were feeling similar feelings. It is so enlightening. So, I read those stories and I feel empowered and inspired. I feel like I can go and live another day and like we are so similar as human beings and we don’t even know.

LISA: Oh, I love that. Now, Sarah, for people listening, if they’re thinking, “Geeze, I have a story I want to share.” How would they do that?

SARAH: Well, you can go to StigmaFighters.com and you can click on the “submit” link. We have a submission form and you can type your story right into that form and submit it. We will publish your story if it is a personal narrative. This is the thing that we stress about Stigma Fighters. It needs to be something that has never been published before and it is about you and your experience with mental health issues.

LISA: Well, Sarah, it has been so great having you on. The time goes by way too fast.

You can learn more by going to www.StigmaFighters.com. You can also follow Sarah at OSNSMom and at StigmaFighters.com.

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Stay well and have a great day.