Stigma: it's an ugly word. It's almost a curse word. When I tell someone that I don't know very well that I have panic disorder, I get a variety of reactions. Sometimes they understand. I had one woman the other day say to me:
"Really? Me too!"
That was quite a surprise since we only knew each other peripherally as she lives in my neighborhood and we see each other sometimes in passing.
Another time, I revealed to a parent at my son's school that I deal with anxiety attacks. It was part of dialogue about what I write on The Huffington Post. He just looked at me with a blank stare. So I changed the subject and we talked about his career instead.
The varying reactions I receive when speaking about panic disorder are a testament to how strong stigma is. I want the day to come when I can say "I have panic disorder," and the person on the other end of the conversation says "Cool," or "So does my brother," or perhaps "I have diabetes."
Mental health diagnoses have stigma attached to them more than physical health conditions. One typically doesn't worry about revealing hyperthyroidism. If you tell someone you are hyperthyroid, the person on the other end of that exchange recognizes that you have a medical condition that requires medication and maintenance.