BY LISA MARIE BASILE
Stigma Fighters is a mental health non-profit organization dedicated to helping real people living with mental illness. Stigma Fighters has been featured on Good Day New York, Psychology Today, Women’s Health Magazine, and The Washington Post. You can support the current anthology by donating here.
LMB: What I love the most about your work with Stigma Fighters is not only that you're pushing for awareness in general, you're pushing for awareness in the everyday. I think that's where the conversation slips through the cracks: the high-functioning person with anxiety, the role model or public figure with panic disorder, the happy-go-lucky people-person with quiet depression. This is what I am so thankful for — because, as a public-facing person, I am always wondering when and if my cracks with show, and what will happen if they do. How did you approach this goal? What message do you want to tell?
SARAH FADER: I can relate to the high-functioning person from personal experience. I grew up in the 90’s when it was shameful to speak candidly about living with depression or anxiety, both of which I experienced on a chronic basis since age 15. I became adept at hiding my illnesses, and I was an excellent actress. This continued into adulthood, and I was hyper-fixated on other people being able to tell if I was "normal." I wanted to call attention to this type of situation in particular because it's one that people don't speak about often.
We are surrounded by people who have mental health issues, but whether or not they speak about them openly is debatable. That is one of the main reasons I started Stigma Fighters is to provide an open forum for people who have been dying to speak their truth about living with mental illness but haven't found the right area to do so. Now people who have a variety of mental illnesses have a place to tell their stories. Whether you are living with Borderline Personality Disorder or Panic Disorder, Stigma Fighters is here for you.
LMB: Can you talk a little about the history of building SF? It seems like a huge undertaking!
SARAH FADER: Stigma Fighters began as a blog series. I reached out to people in the blogging community who I knew were open about living with mental illness and I invited them to share their stories on www.stigmafighters.com. It grew and grew and eventually it was a burgeoning mental health community.
One day, my life changed for the better when I met Allie Burke, who became my business partner. Allie lives with paranoid schizophrenia, but she is so much more than her illness. She is a best-selling author and writes a column for Psychology Today. She has been featured in Women's Health Magazine and runs The OCH Literary Society. Allie and I took Stigma Fighters from being a blog and transformed it into a 501C3 non-profit organization. My inside joke with Allie is that my anxiety loves her paranoia. I adore her and with her leadership and my tenacity we were able to make Stigma Fihters what it is today. We were featured on the front page of The Washington Post!
LMB: What will the anthology feature? How can people support it and your organization?
SARAH FADER: The third volume of The Stigma Fighters Anthology features stories from people living with a variety of mental illnesses. It tells the stories of people who have been continually silenced by our society. I am fortunate to be able to unify so many voices into a volume of text. I want to tell the stories of people who have been told (in one way or another) that they do not matter. Society tells people with mental illness that we are burdens, that we are people to "put up with," and that we shouldn't speak about our challenges. These are all falsehoods and I want to make sure we debunk these statements simply by telling our stories.
LMB: What would you say to the person who may want to contribute to SF by sharing their story, but might be afraid?
SARAH FADER: First I would say, you can tell your story anonymously if you are not ready to share it with your name on it. If you want your name attached to your words, I encourage you to speak your truth. You don't know how many people you are reaching by telling your story. Think about the person who is suffering from depression right now who could benefit from knowing that she is not alone. Mental illness can be inherently isolating. When you open up about your experience, you give hope to people who are yearning for it.
LMB: How can we, in the everyday world, create an environment that is compassionate and kind to those around us (who we either may or may not know are living with mental illness)?
SARAH FADER: We need to speak openly about mental illness period. It's important to combat against the shame associated with having any sort of mental illness. You are a human being first and foremost with feelings and a soul. You have a right to your story and no one can take that away from you. The more we speak openly about mental illness, the more normalized it becomes in society. Next, people who are listening to a friend or loved one who has a mental illness, truly hear what they are telling you.
Maybe you've never experienced bipolar disorder, that doesn't mean you can't be empathetic toward a friend who has it. Lastly, empower the person who has mental illness to know that they CAN when they think they CAN'T. When I say that they can, I mean that sometimes knowing you can means asking for help. Simon and Garfunkle claimed that they were both a rock and an island, but I disagree with that. We are not islands, we are people and we need to ask others for help sometimes.
Want to fight against the stigma? Donate here.
Sarah Fader is the CEO and Founder of Stigma Fighters, a non-profit organization that encourages individuals with mental illness to share their personal stories. She has been featured in The Washington Post, The Atlantic, Quartz, Psychology Today, The 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.
Lisa Marie Basile is the founding editor-in-chief of Luna Luna Magazine and moderator of its digital community. Her work has appeared in The Establishment, Bustle, Bust, Hello Giggles, Marie Claire, Good Housekeeping and Refinery 29, among other sites. She is the author of Apocryphal (Noctuary Press), war/lock (Hyacinth Girl Press), Andalucia (The Poetry Society of New York) and Triste (Dancing Girl Press). Her work can be found in PANK, the Tin House blog, The Nervous Breakdown, The Huffington Post, Best American Poetry, PEN American Center, The Atlas Review, and the Ampersand Review, among others. She has taught or spoken at Brooklyn Brainery, Columbia University, New York University and Emerson College. Lisa Marie Basile holds an MFA from The New School. She is an advocate for foster youth. @lisamariebasile