Let go the stigma!

Three years ago, if we had run into each other, I would have said I was pleased with my life, my achievements so far and with how my future looked like. But then I met Gonta, my friend Lucero’s brother, who lives with schizophrenia. A mirror was held up to my face. And I realized I knew nothing about mental health, I even had a stigma about it. That didn’t feel right and I wasn´t about to be kept in ignorance and indifference.

“4 out of 10 Peruvians are affected by mental health conditions”. I ran into this statement during my senior year and it changed my life. Let’s make a short exercise: imagine one of your co-workers and try to remember when was the last time you asked them sincerely how they were feeling? Now ask yourself when was the last time a colleague asked you this same question? Did you answer sincerely? We don’t tend to ask ourselves this frequently, and when we do, we don’t actually expect more than a brief “fine, thank you”. Well, 4 out of 10 Peruvians answer “fine, thanks” when they actually mean “I’m just answering that way, because you don’t really care about how I feel because I’m afraid that you will push me away if I told you how I really was, because I just want to fit in and feel “normal”.

In Peru, my country, people affected by mental health conditions are a particularly vulnerable human group: they not only face strong social stigma, but they also lack proper recognition of their rights. Moreover, national mental health policies are long overdue, which exacerbates the precarious situation of treatment and care that is made available for them.

It was all of the above that let me to co-found “De-mentes” (in-sane in English), a non-profit organization dedicated to making mental health visible and relevant in society at large.

“De-mentes” came to be in 2014, and since then we are working on transforming our country into a stigma-free society. Last year, we launched a Project that seeks to promote empowerment and strengthen the self-esteem and social skills of people with mental health conditions through art and creativity. “El Arte que hay en mi” (“The Art Within Me” in English), explores and showcases how talented people with mental health conditions are mitigating stigma and taboos around mental health. Every day of the 10 months it spanned, I experienced what a powerful tool art can be to make visible what society often ignores: we are all #valuable, each and every one of us.

More than a testimony, this is a call to action. Remember that every human has their own struggle, experience, history – of which we are unaware. Let’s ask more people “how are you”, and actually give them time to respond. Let’s ask more honestly, let’s give back smiles, let’s be brave enough to recognize when we need help, and most important of all, let’s offer help when we see that someone needs it.

#Love #care and #kindness is all it takes to make a difference, in a single person and in the whole world. Let go the stigma.

*You can find more information about our organization at www.dementes.org.pe or on our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/dementesperu

Gemma Canepa is a OYW Delegate, #valuable Ambassador and co-founder of De-mentes.

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