Why Do We Blame Ourselves For Mental Illness?

Why do we blame ourselves for our mental illness?

Mental illness is just that, an illness, so why is it that the majority of us point the finger inwards on ourselves?

Those suffering from mental health issues can often find themselves coming up with phrases like ‘If I weren’t so weak then maybe I could cope like everyone else’ or ‘If I weren’t so lazy then maybe my depression/anxiety/eating disorder would go away.’

I’ve had several conversations with myself over the last few months along these same lines. I’ve criticised my inability to ‘just get over’ my own mental illness struggles and I’ve compared myself to others who are seemingly coping very well with life. Why can’t I be like them? Why am I so useless that I can’t even function enough to do X-Y-Z?

‘Snap out of it You’re a big girl and need to learn to cope’ is the commonly used mantra of my life. But why is this the case? Is it just a design flaw in my system, is due to the stigma surrounding mental health or is there something more?

Where does this self-blame come from?

 “Money doesn’t buy happiness, but I’d rather cry in a Ferrari.

For some reason, this phrase always comes to mind when I talk about mental illness and having everything we could want in life. Obviously, I’m not suggesting that money and fast cars are everything, but given the chance, I would rather not be depressed at all than cry in a flashy BMW. Personally speaking.

Yet mental illness is cruel and our minds have a sick way of making us feel at our worst, even if everything around us is going smoothly. Ultimately we think the blame should stop with us for not being happy. It’s our fault that we can’t just smile and get on with it. What right have we to be sad when we live in such privileged times? Thus begins the spiral of blame, guilt, mental illness.

You are so childish, you need to grow up and control yourself!” 

Due to the symptoms that present alongside many mental illnesses, we often tend to isolate ourselves from others around us. Speaking in regards to my own mental illnesses, I become easily agitated which causes me to snap at people on a regular basis. I am also prone to intense feelings of anxiety, which often results in overwhelming panic attacks and more tears than I ever thought possible for a human to cry. The embarrassment and guilt from both situations often leaves me apologising profusely and harshly belittling myself. Therefore, to avoid those intense feelings of shame, I try to stay away from people as much as possible or only tolerate them in small doses.

The anorexia nervosa (along with her other mental illness friends) is not an excuse for me to be horrible to people. I still need to own up to it and apologise. But I also need to learn to self soothe and be more compassionate with myself in the aftermath.

“Why can’t I just snap out of it?” 

I’ve heard this phrase come out of my own mouth, as well as the mouth of others, on an almost constant basis. Why can’t we just will ourselves to stop being sodepressed!? We tell ourselves it’s because we’re weak or because we simply aren’t working hard enough to get better, even if we’re doing our absolute best.

The reality is that recovering from a mental illness isn’t like fixing a tummy bug or a broken bone. A lot of what we have to do is taking medication consistently, going to therapy and practicing self-help from the inside out. It’s so easy to blame ourselves for not being able to snap out of it because, although the foundations are laid by professionals, the blocks are being cemented together by our own perseverance. Essentially you are the contractor, subcontractor, and architect. The professionals are only there to guide you along the way.

“I don’t deserve help, others have it so much worse.” 

A lot of the time we don’t feel that we’re worthy of the help simply because the illness isn’t ‘physical’ or because others have it much worse than us. Unlike a broken bone which needs set and time to heal, mental illness is all in our minds. It’s internal and therefore can’t be seen physically, making it harder for ourselves and others to make allowances for it.

Yes, others may ‘have it worse‘, but that doesn’t make your feelings any less valid. That doesn’t make your depression or anxiety suddenly shrivel up and disappear. Talking to yourself like that only fuels the guilt and shame that accompanies mental illness, and prevents you from seeking further help.

“They’ll think I’m being attention-seeking.”

Stigma is certainly one of the biggest factors that influences self-blame. I’ve been told so many times that I’m deserving of help and that the mental illness isn’t my fault, but I’m still painfully aware of what people think about others in my situation. They think that they’re ‘trying it on’, they’re ‘lazy’, they’re ‘a failure’ or they’re ‘crazy’. No one has said these things to me directly, but many have done about others in the past, and so what makes me any different? In the end, I take those bigoted phrases and I internalise them. I write them on all the little bricks that I have built and end up ruining the walls of progress.

Stigma is dangerous. It stopped me from seeking help for longer than it should have done for fear of seeming ‘attention seeking’. Stigma makes you feel like less of a human being just because you are feeling depressed, or overwhelmed, or practicing self-destruction as a coping mechanism. It causes you to take all of those feelings and store them securely in the ‘self-blame’ drawer of your mind’s filing cabinet to be used as a reminder whenever you’re at your worst.

How can we overcome these feelings of self-blame?

Forgive yourself.

If you take nothing else away from this post please remember this one phrase; You are human.

Human’s, by nature, are not perfect and we all make mistakes. Mental illness can make our mistakes and supposed ‘failures‘ seem like mountains. When we think about it, they may only be bumps in the road. They make us to internalise all of the bad feelings and ultimately adds fuel to the fire.

We need to learn to forgive ourselves! We need to be compassionate and understanding like we would be with a child, and although we need to take some responsibility never mistake this for blame. Once we have mastered the art of taking responsibility and self-forgiveness, we need to apologise and ask for forgiveness from others. Don’t dwell on it. Once you’ve completed the above steps move on. Lock the door and throw away the key.

Talk about it.

It becomes so normal for us to blame ourselves that sometimes we don’t even know that we’re doing it. It’s almost like an instant reaction. The belittling voice in our head is just like an internal monologue that has always been there, and asking it to leave can be a daunting thought.  

Talking it out with a friend, family member or mental health professional can help rationalise these thoughts and get an outside perspective. It can help us to pinpoint unhelpful thinking patterns and begin to break them apart bit by bit. By identifying the blame in our own minds we can work towards evicting it forever from our lives. We can finally begin to accept that we are not the ones to blame for our mental illness.

What is the “The Is Me” campaign?

The Lord Mayor’s Appeal’s “This is Me” is committed to changing attitudes around mental health and strives to create mentally inclusive workplaces by reducing stigma, dispelling myths, and improving employee wellbeing for good. It does this through three key strands which are:

  • This is Me Storytelling: Organisations encourage their employees to open the conversation around mental health by sharing their personal experiences, be of their own illness or of supporting a loved one. This is framed with other characteristics of the person so that mental ill-health feels like a part, rather than all, of that person.
  • The Green Ribbon: Organisations encourage their employees to wear green ribbons to raise awareness of mental ill-health and visibly show their support for ending the stigma around mental health.
  • Wellbeing in the Workplace: Organisations upskill their employees in having conversations about mental health. Using the Samaritans Listening Wheel, employees learn how to actively listen and increase their confidence in approaching someone who is in distress.
Where can you find out more about the campaign?

You can find out more on their website.

You’ll also be able to find them on the following socials;

Twitter: @LMAppeal 

Instagram: @thelordmayorsappeal 

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113 thoughts on “Why Do We Blame Ourselves For Mental Illness?

  1. I think that a big part of us isolating and blaming ourselves for mental illnesses is the society which still doesn’t accept it as what it actually is, an illness…. Mental illnesses come from chemical imbalances in the brain that we are unable to control, so if people would just understand that and give a break to people with depression by trying to be understanding rather than just say “snap out of it”.

    1. This is so well said, Joanna! Thank you very much for this comment. It’s 100% a chemical imbalance, which makes it outside our control, so blaming ourselves does nothing but make us feel guilty for something that isn’t our fault. It promotes a cycle of shame.

  2. It’s sad that people do this because it is NOT their fault. I am glad we’re talking about it openly now so people stop blaming themselves.

    1. I’m glad it’s becoming more normal to talk about but it’ still very stigmatized. Thank you so much for stopping in and reading. x

  3. It’s the enemy triggering us to speak this way about ourselves! Mental illness is so important to talk about and address. Thank you for this post.

    1. Thank you so much for stopping in and reading. I agree with you, it certainly is the stigma presented that leads us to belive we’re to blame.

  4. This was such a lovely and important read! Mental health is something we should all be aware of, and no one is to blame.

  5. I agree, it’s so easy to blame ourselves. I didn’t want to admit to anyone at work that I was suffering because they would think I was weak. There is still a lot of misunderstanding about mental health. People are forever saying have you tried yoga? Etc 🙄

  6. Mental health is such an important aspect of our lives. I have dealt with bouts of depression over the course of my life and not wanted to seek help to not appear weak or not in control. It’s taken many years to understand how I can cope when depression arises (or sinks me.) Typically medication does help me but talking to friends and family and/or a therapist is a MUST.

  7. We are so, so hard on ourselves. Just like we can’t blame ourselves for getting cancer or any other illness, mental illness is one we aren’t to blame for. We need to be kinder to ourselves, hard as it can be sometimes.

  8. Most people are so worried about what others thing of them. I think that plays a big part in this. And if the person hasn’t been officially diagnosed, they may not know that they have a mental illness. They just think that there is something wrong with them and they don’t understand why. Diagnosis and treatment are extremely important. Like all illnesses, medication can make it better.

  9. I literally just finished reading a book that spoke about mental illness and it made me so sad, because the woman is treated so badly and it’s an ILLNESS!

  10. Looking forward on knowing more about this. If I am correct, this illness just recently came up right? I meant public is now aware of this just recently..

  11. I know what you mean… I hate myself for being anxious and worrisome…I hate that I can’t say no to people…it’s so hard..and worse when people say that i cause all this grief myself…

  12. What a brilliant post. It is so hugely important for us all to see that this is not our fault. We wouldn’t get mad at ourselves for catching a cold or a bug (We’d be mad at the person that bought it in to the office though right!!!) so we must see our mental health in the same way x

  13. This is a topic of concern these days….we need to buy support for this problem without hesitation…

  14. I can so relate to this. Dealing with periods of dysthymia when I was younger, I always blamed myself for feeling the way that I did. It wasn’t until later, when I had learned to deal with my negative emotions, that I recognized it wasn’t my fault for feeling this way but that I had a lot of power and control in how I was feeling.

    1. I’m still trying to convince myself that Anorexia and her friends aren’t my fault. But it’s hard to break a lifetime of self-hatred.

  15. Mental issues is definitely something that’s need to be discussed more. Great article and really interesting point of view. Thanks for sharing all the info.

  16. I am so glad that there is a lot less stigma around mental illness in this modern age because people see it as a real problem and respect as well as offer assistance to people that need all the help that they can get.

  17. I actually hear that the new Joker movie blames violence on mental illness. I hope that isn’t true. I’m not sure I want to see the movie now.

    1. Someone told me it was a great movie and really touched well on Mental illness, but I’ve also heard the story you have. I really hope it doesn’t because I finally want a decent representation of MI in movies.

  18. Guilt and self blame is very real on mental illness. I see it all the time with those around me who suffer.Thank you for this amazing blog!😊

  19. I’m ashamed to say I’ve not heard of the This Is Me campaign so I’m really glad I found this post. And while I think mental health is talked about much more nowadays than even in the recent past, I don’t think it’s a subject that many people feel comfortable with. I love your point about forgiving yourself. Acceptance is so important. Great post, thank you for sharing.

    Lisa | http://www.lisasnotebook.com

  20. Great post! For me one of my triggers is my family. They call me crazy for wanting to travel and live life. They want me to sit at home and do nothing which is a real shame. I wish people would be me and not just my anxiety, depression and body image disorder.

  21. The more we talk about mental illness the less stigma there will be surrounding it. No one should think it is there fault.

  22. Great post. We need to stop blaming ourselves and not let others bring us down.

  23. This is so important to talk about! There are people ion my life that struggle with mental illness and the pressure they put on themselves is huge. They blame themselves for not just being able to shake it off and get on with life. Supporting them and having these conversations is really important.

    1. Thank you so much for reading and commenting. I appreciate you reading this 🙂 It is so important that we try not to blame ourselves for our illness, although I know it’s very, very difficult.

  24. And I think that the blaming is a big part in how poorly we feel… the day we can start detaching ourselves from the illness will be such a good day!

  25. As someone who struggles with mental health it is hard not blame myself. I have definitely been working on trying not to isolate myself as much and talking more about what i am feeling.

    1. I’ve been isolating myself for a while now just because, much like self-blame, it’s just simpler.
      Thank you so much for reading 🙂

  26. Oh man, I’ve really been struggling with my anxiety lately and it can be so hard to not blame myself for it. Thank you for this.

  27. I guess for some people it’s easier to blame yourself and take it out on yourself, than it is to blame others.

    Much like how we hide our internal pain from our loved ones because we don’t want to cause them pain by sharing, and often cope by keeping this pain to ourselves with unhealthy coping strategies

    1. It does feel alot easier to blame myself to be honest. I am so convinced it’s me that I’m almost scared to even consider blaming someone else.
      Thank you so much for reading 🙂

  28. Oh my, this is such an awesome post! Yeah, I had been in the phase where I felt guilty about feeling what I felt because others had it worse. Great tips, by the way. Thank you for sharing this. 🙂

  29. Everything I say to myself, in form of blame, I have heard from someone else at one time or another: friends, family, even significant other. Get over it, you are being too sensitive, what is wrong with you, you are crazy/ridiculous/too sensitive/etc are all things I have heard and repeat too myself way too often.
    My hope is that as more people understand mental illness and accept it as an illness, this will change and perhaps we will blame ourselves a little less

    1. I’m the exact same. If I say it to myself, I’ve heard it uttered to me or someone before.
      Thank you so much for popping in and reading.

  30. This is a vital post! Blame is so common in mental health and mental health stigma. We, as sufferers, blame ourselves and we feel the blame from society too. Thank you for posting such an important post.
    I struggle with blame all the time. Its easier to say its just me, I’m stupid, I’m a horrible person for making mistakes all the time but it’s not true. Its ineffective for recovery as well.

    Hugs, light and love.


    1. I struggle with blame constantly. It’s so terrible and it’s a part of mental illness barely anyone understands!

      Thank you so, so much for reading 😀

  31. I am so thankful I don’t suffer from a mental illness – unless you consider being HAPPY an illness? lol – but I know those who do. And I HATE when they blame themselves. It’s not their fault at all… Unless they eat a very poor diet because eating a not so good for you diet can lead to mental illness crazily enough – but typically in these instances people aren’t educated enough to know that their diet makes a difference.

  32. I feel like it is so ingrained in us that we blame ourselves for mental illness. We think we just need to “be better” but that isn’t how it works and we need to be better and know better.

  33. I blame myself all the time. I know it is wrong but I always find myself doing it again and again! Thank you for talking about such an important topic.

  34. I know someone who blames themselves for the emotions she goes through. It’s not something I’m comfortable with, but that’s just who she is.

  35. Thank you for letting us know about that campaign. Honestly, I feel that we don’t talk enough about this topic. It’s still a taboo and it’s sad. I realized that I have had that way of thinking. The thing is that we think that is normal, but it’s not. We are blaming ourselves for things that are out of our control. Thank you for being so open and honest.

  36. I blame myself for fair reasons. Sometimes I End up doing something I should not, knowing the after effect of it.
    This is a great. Thank you for talking about it.

    1. Sometimes I do something I know won’t work but I can’t control it. I.e falling back into the eating disorder was slow, so slow I barely noticed it until it was too late. I should know better, but it’s just how I cope with harsh emotions and situations. It’s the way I’ve trained myself to cope. Mental illness has a funny way of controlling us.

      Thank you for reading 😀

  37. this is super informative post. i must recommend this to one of my friend who always blaming herself for every wrong dead or happening in her life.

  38. What a fantastic post- hits a very important and brutally painful nail on the head!
    Lovely in depth and eloquent post too- nicely done, very inspiring.
    Btw look at the number of comments you’ve got round here Chloe- you’ve got a fabuloisly poplular blog! Whoop!
    Peace and love,
    Spence 😀

    1. Thank you very much Spence! I appreciate you popping in and reading! I always judge my achievement on this blog through engagement, and I’ve found it’s been going up lately, which is great 😀

  39. Mental illness is huge. If left unaddressed it can cause a ripple effect of so many things. Thank you for your transparency.

  40. This is such an important topic. I know im always beat myself up about my mental illness, especially telling myself to “get over it” or those days when I can’t function “I’m lazy”.

  41. This is such an important topic. A lot of people don’t realize that mental health is often something that cannot be controlled and it is definitely something we shouldn’t blame ourselves for, even though we often do. Thanks for sharing!

  42. This is very very insightful!!! Thank you so much for raising awareness for such an important issue! I blame myself all the time and that is not okay!!!

  43. I grew up in a family that never talked about mental illness- nobody had it, and if they did, it’s because you did something wrong. I’m sure that is part of it, but it is the nature of the beast itself.

    1. Although that wasn’t the case in my household, I still constantly blame myself for everything that’s happened to me in regards to mental illness.

  44. This is such an informative post and I related to a lot of it! A lot of the phrases you talked about I’ve said many times before, especially the one about other people having things a lot worse. It ends up being a viscous cycle – you feel depressed, but that thought pops into your head, causing you to feel guilty for feeling the way you do, but the guilt makes you feel worse and so on. It’s so important to cut yourself some slack when it comes to mental illness. I completely agree that the stigma surrounding it is largely to blame too – to a lot of people it’s still considered “attention seeking” or “not a proper illness” and I think it’s through those sorts of views it makes it so easy for us to blame ourselves for our mental health problems. Great post, I think so many people will find this helpful 😊 xx

    1. Thank you so much for reading and sharing your story Amy. I really appreciate it. I know so many people struggle with the same thing, and despite writing about it, I still struggle with it. xx

  45. I’ve always felt that, for women, a big part of the self-blame for mental illness has come from the impression that we are too emotional. Then any time we feel like we are not in control of our emotions, we start shaming ourselves for having them at all. It wasn’t until I was in my mid 20’s that I realized my sensitive and emotional side was not a negative aspect of my being, but something that made me ME and that, in recognizing that, I felt like I had more ownership and control over them.

  46. I find myself saying this often: “I don’t deserve help, others have it so much worse.” Sometimes I feel that I will be taking resources from somebody who needs it more than me. Slowly I’m learning that I need to focus on me to them help others.

    1. It’s hard to get out of that mindset. We all get trapped in it at some point in our lives, but if we continue to do so we’ll never find our way out.

  47. People blame themselves because – well, they have a mental illness and don’t realize that it’s not necessarily their fault. And the mass population (who don’t have mental illnesses) have ZERO empathy towards those who do, and just see them as “weak” thus make people with mental illness feel badly about themselves.

    1. Exactly. I’ve been shamed into believing the anorexia is my fault, I made the decision to wake up one day and ruin the rest of my adult life with an eating disorder. It’s crazy because no one would ever wish any of this on themselves.

  48. The themes you are dealing with are always very delicate but you are right to talk about it because nobody does it and it is important.

  49. This article needed to share. There’s a lot of people not aware on mental illness. Lets spread this awareness. And help people who needs attention. This is growing faster. We need to act and help those people suffering from this. Thank you for sharing this post!

  50. I am so glad to see mental health become a priority for companies. We focus on kids mental health, but once they turn into adults, all of a sudden it’s suck it up, that’s life, etc etc.. This is great! ~ Kelli A

  51. t’s very sad but mental illness is no ones fault, but we blame ourselves.This is a topic very close to me. Lots of people nowadays suffering from anxiety and I blame it on social media.

  52. I think that we are taught to blame ourselves – very often by the supposed professionals – especially when we don’t recover on the first treatment plan; or our progression and clinical outcomes are atypical or unexpected.

    The this is me campaign sounds like an awesome step – especially if it leads to more support in the workplace in practice, but as with all awareness campaigns we really need the resources there to support us practically as well.

  53. You talk with skill and wise judgement about important things like that. I am sure your article will help many people to stop blaming themselves.

  54. Mental health should be something we can all talk about and feel no fear of judgement. Depression and anxiety touch just about everyone.

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