Mia’s Story – Meet One of Our Two Stigma-Free Scholarship Winners

Meet Mia Schartau, one of the recipients of our Stigma-Free Scholarship offered in partnership with the Otsuka Lundbeck Alliance! In this post, Mia shares her personal experience with stigma, the work she does to combat it, and her advice for living Stigma-Free. Keep reading to learn more about her inspiring story!

My Experience with Stigma

I was diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder (DID) at 17, right before my first year of college. The diagnosis took me by surprise, and I initially felt a lot of shame about it. The way the media portrayed DID was terrifying. The portrayals ranged from “the diagnosis is fake and does not exist” to “people with DID are a danger to society.” I didn’t tell people about my diagnosis for a long time because I didn’t want to scare them. That brought on a set of issues on its own. I became a flakey friend for “no reason” when in reality, I was experiencing symptoms of my disorder.

Once I became brave enough to share what I was experiencing with others, I didn’t always get a positive response. As a teenager, that was really difficult and scary for me because my world already felt like it was falling apart and now, I didn’t even have friends to help me through it. It made me hesitant to interact with people or leave my house. I was already struggling with symptoms and didn’t want to be further pushed from the communities I lived in.

Finding the Silver Lining and Making a Difference

I honestly would not be the person I am today without the battles I have faced. I don’t think I would be the compassionate, driven, and caring person I am had I not gone through experiences that made me decenter myself to focus on others. Yes, living through trauma made me stronger – but at the time, I didn’t need to be strong. I needed to be safe. I feel this very strongly with the youth I interact with now. They don’t have to be strong or resilient because life is hard enough. I now do everything in my power to create a space where safety is prioritized.

I used to be highly involved in advocacy on a local and federal level, but I’ve recently taken a step back from that for my mental health. What I’ve been doing now is providing peer support to other marginalized people in my community and focusing on collective community care. I’ve also enjoyed providing workshops on my lived experience and consulting on policies. I really feel like I’m making a difference. But one of the most important, and probably the most underrecognized thing I do to combat stigma in my community, is to exist authentically. Just by being myself, I am reducing stigma, which is really cool to think about. Showing up, trying my best, and sharing my story is already proving to the world that life doesn’t end after a diagnosis or a low point.

Future Goals and Career Aspirations

I am currently in the final semester of my bachelor’s degree in Child and Youth Care Counselling with a minor in applied psychology. I have been offered a spot at London Metropolitan University in the Women and Child Abuse MA program, which I look forward to accepting. My future career goal is to expand on my public speaking and workshops because I feel very passionate about educating others from the lens of professional practice and lived experience. My end goal is to become a psychologist specialising in trauma disorders. Before I provide counselling, I want to be further along in my own healing journey in order to be the best practitioner I can be.

Advice for Combatting Mental Health Stigma

Something really important that people can do to combat stigma is avoid speculating online about whether someone has a mental illness or leaving negative comments under a video of someone sharing their personal struggles. Getting into the comment section and giving your two cents can be extremely hurtful for those of us who are just trying to live our lives. Struggling with mental health is morally neutral and something that the majority of people will struggle with at one point or another. It’s likely the person you’re commenting on will never see what you say, but your friends who are experiencing that same struggle might.

Words of Encouragement

If you are coping with mental health challenges, this is going to sound a lot simpler than it is, but take every day one second at a time. Even when it all feels too much and like you can’t possibly cope with anything else, I promise you, you can get through the next second. There are people in your life who care about you. I care about you. I care about every single person who is overcoming obstacles that might feel insurmountable.

By: Mia Schartau

Congratulations, Mia. We are incredibly proud of the work you do and wish you the best of luck in your academic endeavours!

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