Talking About Stigma With Michelle Staubach Grimes

Last year on World Mental Health Day, when Michelle Staubach Grimes, daughter of Dallas Cowboys legend Roger Staubach and author of two popular children’s books, saw several people speaking out online about the difficulty of dealing with mental illness, she decided to do the same. It was an easy decision, she says, because she had little to lose, and she wanted to help normalize mental illness for the sake of those who are often stigmatized for it. While Michelle has struggled with mental health challenges since childhood—particularly acute anxiety and depression—until then she’d kept her struggles private.

Michelle ended up crafting a Facebook post of her own that read: “This is the face of one who has struggled with mental health since I was a child. I’m not ashamed anymore. Please reach out if you are struggling. Sometimes the journey is dark but there are many bright days.”

Since then, Michelle has become a leader in the Dallas community, speaking out about her experience with mental illness and encouraging others to get help. She is keenly aware of the stigma that surrounds mental illness like a cloud, making it difficult for people to get appropriate treatment and be open about their struggles without fearing repercussions like losing friendships or jobs. We chatted with Michelle about the particular stigmas associated with mental health challenges as she prepares to speak at The Well’s upcoming WellSpring Celebration Luncheon.

The Stigma of Mental Illness

“One of the reasons I felt it was important to speak out publicly is to help erase the stigma,” says Michelle. As someone with a supportive family who is not worried about losing her job, she felt uniquely equipped to talk about mental illness. Those with less financial security or relational help cannot always afford to speak up, she explains.

Michelle shares that this stigma affects people in a number of different ways. Having a mental illness is no different than having any other type of disease that simply needs to be managed with the appropriate medicine and therapy; but often, because the illness is connected to the brain, it is wrongly associated with instability or an inability to function normally in society.

That’s just not true, says Michelle; and yet these stigmas can affect anyone who struggles with mental health issues—from children who are left behind in grade school to adults who cannot get a job later in life. “I think it’s very hard for parents with young kids,” she points out. “They’re afraid for this diagnosis to be attached to their kid, and then end up fighting for health insurance for the rest of their lives.” Michelle is also particularly worried about those who are in lower income brackets, uninsured or unemployed, like many of the members of The Well.

She points out something Well Community Executive Director Alice Zaccarello often says: Some people associate mental illnesses like schizophrenia with violent crime, but the truth is the majority of those who live with these conditions aren’t criminals or violent. In fact, they are more often the victims of crime rather than the perpetrators of crime.

Sharing Her Story

Still, Michelle acknowledges that because mental illnesses affect the brain, and we just don’t know that much about the brain, there’s still a lot of scientific and medical work to be done before we can fully understand these diseases. In the meantime, she hopes to fight stigma by sharing her story. Michelle’ hope is that people will hear about how she manages her illness and this will give them hope for managing their own.

“When people share their story, we realize, ‘Oh, I’m not the only one that has that,’ and then we don’t feel so alone. And we feel okay about sharing our own stories. And I think that’s really the only way we break down the barriers,” she says.

Want to hear more from Michelle?

We’re excited to welcome Michelle to our upcoming WellSpring Celebration Luncheon, and we’d love for you to join us! This event will feature a conversation with Michelle, led by Peabody Award-winning reporter Brett Shipp, now of Brett Shipp Media. Learn more and get your tickets now.

Be sure to follow The Well Community on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to learn more about mental illnesses and stigma, as well as how The Well provides a place of community and support.