Societal Stigmas, Gender Norms, and their Effect on Mental Health

Something that has become increasingly bothersome to me, and I’m sure many of you, are the stigmas that society has put in place. Whether the stigmas affect those struggling with mental health, those who do not identify as a binary gender or sexuality, or those of a particular ethnic group, nationality, or religion, society has a way of creating these cookie-cutter-type images of what we are supposed to look and act like. Even though these images are near-to-impossible to recreate, we are often brutally shamed for not meeting these expectations.

We see this in visual ad campaigns where female models are stick thin, oversexualized, and often being dominated by men, and where male models are tall, dark, and rugged, often sporting a six-pack and bulging muscles.  We see this when people of the LGBTQIA community are bullied and murdered for not dressing like the gender they were assigned at birth, for publicly holding hands with someone of the same sex, and for simply not having the desire to hold anyone’s hand. We see this when people are attacked both verbally and physically for identifying with a particular religion, when people of a certain race or ethnicity are targeted and not given the same opportunities as others simply based on the color of their skin, and we see it when people who happen to look similar to whomever is labeled as “the enemy” at that point in time are attacked. And as we know, we see this when the topic of mental health is pushed further and further down on the agenda and people are told that their conditions are “all in their heads,” that their dire needs cannot be met because “other people have it worse,” and that it’s “not as bad” as a physical health condition.

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Forgotten Soldiers: Memorial Day, Veterans, & Mental Health

When we think of Memorial Day, many of us think about a three-day weekend filled with family barbecues, drinking beer, red, white, and blue decorations, and an excuse for department stores to hold huge sales. But there is so much more to this holiday. Memorial Day is a day completely set aside to honor the brave souls who have lost their lives protecting our country.

As we know, there is a heavy and negative stigma attached to mental health, resulting in negative beliefs, self-stigma, lack of motivation to seek help and in self-esteem, and can eventually lead to destructive behavior. What many people don’t know is that these barriers to mental health care are even more prominent in the military, which has led to catastrophically high levels of suicide and mental health cases in veterans and military personnel currently active in the military.

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Having Depression When Your Busy Life Slows Down

It started with a sigh of relief.

Last week I graduated from college, and I couldn’t contain my excitement knowing that I finally had a break after the last hectic eight months of my life. I had been living day to day juggling class, an internship, work, a Senior Honor’s Thesis, meetings, running a website, directing and editing a music video, and finding time to see my girlfriend and friends. It had been the lifestyle I adopted, and I’m proud of all the work I produced and art I was able to create.

But man oh man, I was ready for a break.

This last week I’ve been adjusting back into a more “regular” lifestyle. I moved back into the house I grew up in and began working nights in a restaurant to start saving for my future. It felt amazing to be able to relax and not have the constant stress of deadlines and juggling so many different projects.

However, one night after work I was sitting alone in my living room, time quickly approaching the sunrise, when I felt it.

It hit me in a moment.

The depression and numbness I had seemingly gotten ahead of these last few months was back. As if to say:

Knock, Knock. Remember me?

As much as I know depression is a part of my life and that it will always come and go, there are times where I do feel like I genuinely forget the intensity of feeling nothing. In fact, I didn’t even full realize how long I had gone without feeling those feelings until they were back full force.

But why had I forgotten? Why was I so surprised to feel those feelings again?

The truth of the matter is I was distracted. For the last eight months depression had come in small doses, but nothing like I felt this week. Depression has always been following closely in my rearview mirror, but I was so focused on the road and the turns to take lately I didn’t even notice it.

Being busy kept me distracted. My projects and deadlines gave me a sense of purpose. But with all that stripped away my car had stopped, and my depression took the advantage to jump in the backseat.

That first moment never really gets easier when those emotions hit. It wasn’t a fun night, by any means, but it also felt like a moment of clarity. It reminded me of who I am. And it reminded me of why I do the things I do.

I came across a quote the same night on twitter by author Paulo Coelho that made me reflect in a similar manner.

“Man needs what’s worst in him in order to achieve what’s best in him.”

By no means am I advocating that having depression makes you a bad person. But if I had the opportunity to change one part of myself, I think I would choose to not struggle with depression.

But what makes the quote interesting is that if I didn’t feel these things, would I achieve and be successful at the things I am? Would I still be as empathetic or creative?

I guess I’ll never know the answer.

I have no doubt that within a few weeks I’ll be back in the routine of being busy with new projects and collaborations, and I know that’s something I may be doing to outrun depression. For those of us who live this lifestyle, we need to remember to check in with ourselves. Remember why we do what we do, because there will always be moments when life slows down for us.

Always remember you are not alone.

You are loved.


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Let’s Talk About Death: An Alternative Approach to Mental Health

This community is growing rapidly, and I think the most beautiful aspect of having an eclectic group of folks together in one place is that we all have different stories to tell. Parts of all of our journeys inevitably intertwine in the continuums of triumph and struggle, but we all have our own lens to share. The idiosyncratic blend of colors we each bring to the world is something that ought to be more celebrated in spaces outside of Dear Hope, but until the world takes a turn in a more loving direction, we will always have this space to share those bonds.

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DEAR HOPE PREMIER: Sabrina Kennedy’s “If Only” Official Music Video

Today, Dear Hope is proud to premier the official music video for “If Only”, the debut single from MTV Real Word star Sabrina Kennedy.

The video is inspired by our Consumed photography series that we have been working on since the Fall of 2015. The project aims to use photography and body art to demonstrate the internal battle that people with depression and anxiety face externally, because so much of the stigma and stereotypes surrounding mental health conditions exist because we can’t physically see them the way we see a physical illness.

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Alex Yell Edit

But It’s not all in your head. It’s real. And we hope that by spreading awareness and bringing people together through community, art, and story telling we can help people feel like they are not alone – they are loved.

Here’s what Sabrina had to say about “If Only” and her own struggle with depression:

“If Only represents a very hard time in my life where I suffered deeply from depression due to outside forces that I did not understand. My actions at that time were driven by fear and I had zero self esteem. I was the girl that struggled so hard inside to figure it all out and the only aspect of my life that stayed constant and my outlet was music – all I really had was music. 

People and places can, and will, take from you but I learned you have to be extremely strong. Pain is quite a beautiful thing to feel and if people accepted their emotions more we could all help each other. I want this song to show people that it is acceptable to preach about how you are feeling and what you are going through.”

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Find the brand new video below.

Find Sabrina on Twitter and Instagram and listen to the song on Spotify and Itunes.

Want to submit to this site and share your story, art, or article related to mental health or mental illness? Email

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Introducing Amanda! Meet the Latest Dear Hope Team Member

Hello Everyone!

Today I’m excited to welcome Amanda Canale to the Dear Hope team as our Social Media Manager.



She has been hard at work the last two weeks rebuilding and growing our brand new Tumblr page and producing content for our social media platforms! You actually may have seen some of her awesome work on our Instagram that we’ve been sharing – but if not, allow me to introduce you to her images:

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Dear Hope is Going to Mental Health America! + Other News From The Author

Hello everyone!

Paul here.

This has been an AMAZING and BUSY last few months for Dear Hope, and I think a few announcements are in place!

Conference Invitation

First off, I’m super excited to announce that  Dear Hope has been invited by Mental Health America to speak at their conference “Media, Messaging, and Mental Health” this June in Virginia!

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Hiding Visible Scars: Why I’m Glad Someone Asked Me The Difficult Questions

I first experienced loss my senior year of high school. While family members had passed away in my childhood, this was the first time I was able to fully process what had happened. My former stepbrother, the son of my mom’s ex-fiancé, died suddenly from a seizure. While he and I had continued to be friendly when we saw each other after our parents’ split, the discomfort between our families resulted in ours not being able to attend the wake or funeral.

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Losing Your Mother to Mental Illness

This piece, titled “Losing Your Mother to Mental Illness”, comes from the incredibly brave Ariana Hegarty, who reflects upon her mother’s bipolar disorder.

I’ll never forget our shopping sprees and laughing until our stomachs hurt in the dressing room when something I thought was adorable, looked ridiculous. But as the years go on, the good memories fade away while the bad ones continue to stand out. And I’m not sure if it was the bipolar disorder or her mere disinterest in raising children, but on my 14th birthday my mother moved out and I would never see her again.

There was no casket, no funeral was held, and you won’t find an obituary anywhere but by all other definitions, my mother is dead. She is simply a shell of a woman who was once married to her high school sweetheart with two daughters who loved her endlessly. But now, I don’t know exactly what she does on a day to day basis, maybe she’s still drinking, and perhaps she stills spends most of her days in bed. Its five years later and I can’t help but worry about these things, because at one point I thought I could help her.