The Black Sheep Syndrome and Mental Health Stigma

December 8, 2011 Natalie Jeanne Champagne

Mental health stigma makes many people feel as if they are the black sheep of humanity. The reality: people are each unique - so we're all a black sheep.

As if dealing with a diagnosis of mental illness is not hard enough, many of us are confronted with a feeling that we do not belong in our family, within our peer group -- we feel different. I'm pretty sure there is no definition for 'the black sheep syndrome' but, just in case, let me refer to my trusted thesaurus.

Alas, apparently there is! And I am not surprised that it falls in the category of EXCLUSION. It is directly connected to the following words:




-Not one of us

Well, I suppose this was the worth purchase and space it takes up on my desk. At this point, I'm not sure if I want to burn it or contact the editor and tell her how accurate her damn thesaurus is. The definition of being, "not one of us" really hits home with me. And I would bet you my trusted thesaurus that you have, at some point, felt this way. If you have not, please, do not hesitate to provide me, and our readers, with some tips.

Feeling like the Black Sheep In Mental Illness Recovery

Living with a mental illness makes many people feel as if they are the black sheep of humanity. The reality: people are each unique - and a black sheep.Alright, now we have a definition. But words cannot describe how it actually feels to be diagnosed with a mental illness and suddenly feel different than others. Even if we are told we are normal (what a ridiculous word) taking medication can be a constant reminder that we feel, definitely, unfairly stigmatized and segregated from others.

People, all of us, want to feel like we fit in with the rest of society. It is the human condition---amongst the importance of eating and drinking water, etc etc. The juxtaposition: we all want to be different than each other, special, and eccentric in our own way. Diagnosed with a mental illness, you probably feel like you have just landed on a different planet: The Planet of the Mentally Ill. Sometimes, regardless of positive reassurance from those who care about us, we cannot shake the feeling of being abnormal. Feeling like the black sheep.

The Definition of Normal Defies Reality

Yes, we have a mental illness but everyone has things they keep from other people. This is healthy. This, this is normal. Based on the absolute truth that there is not a definition of normal (and I will refrain from referencing my thesaurus--promise) having a mental illness, battling addiction, eating disorders and anxiety, alongside a slew of other lovely diagnosis, makes us normal. Human. Pain is a shared experience.

An example: the end of a relationship, the pain that that brings, is something shared among people, and so too is the feeling we might not fit in. But think about it: do you really want to aspire to be what the masses view as the societal ideal? An ideal that does not exist. Having a mental illness makes you unique, and the people you talk to on a daily basis, carry baggage that makes them unique. We all struggle. That's life....

Last thoughts: having a mental illness can make you feel like you are the black sheep, and rightfully so, but work to understand that 'normal' is just a variation of individual behavior. You are as normal as the person sitting closest to you. Normal, well, throw the word away.

We are all unique.

Photo by Megan Johnston on Unsplash

APA Reference
Jeanne, N. (2011, December 8). The Black Sheep Syndrome and Mental Health Stigma, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, May 28 from

Author: Natalie Jeanne Champagne

August, 12 2017 at 8:59 am

Without ever having to say it, but having been criticized, belittled, shamed, (the list goes on), from mostly my elderly, always narcissistic mother, I've chosen major depressive disorder, to avoid my family and ruin what's left of her life. (Her words many many times), as well as the rest of my family abandoning me when I needed them most. Second failed marriage and losing my home was my fault as well. (How could I possibly shame and embarrass her that way)? They aren't even aware of the adjoining anxiety diagnosis and complex-ptsd that came before during and after divorcing my narcissist ex spouse nearly four long years ago, not only personally but publicly humiliating me I every grandiose fashion he could. If not for my dog I don't know that I'd be here today. But all this being said, as hard as it's been each and every day and night to fight this, (agoraphobia as well), due to my own fears and feeling I don't fit in anywhere, I know I'm 100% better of a person than any family I've had and lost. They honestly don't know if I'm dead or alive, and that's a horrible feeling to have each day, knowing that all you've ever wanted was to be loved. Thanks for this article. I'm glad to have found it, and even though I stopped blaming myself long ago, it still hurts.

August, 10 2017 at 10:51 pm

I've been the black sheep my entire life. I learned to embrace it early on.Good article.

March, 12 2016 at 4:28 am

Some just doomed. That's a article written in mania stage....only my opinion

Lori Carlson
July, 13 2015 at 2:13 am

The title of this is misleading... too much time was spent on getting to the warm fuzzy at the end and not enough time actually explaining what Black Sheep Syndrome is. I guess the author of this just assumes that anyone who comes here already assumes they have BSS and therefore we should just embrace our uniqueness and go on about our merry way. What a wasted post.

July, 10 2015 at 5:47 pm

I thought I was the only one that felt this. I didn't know it was a symptom. My mother married twice & I just thought their resentment was to blame. Always making sure that people knew we were only half siblings. What a awakening. Thank you

June, 22 2015 at 4:07 am

Hey Jacqui :)
I think that we can make our own interpretations of people's behavior- personally, I believe that family members can reflect their attitudes towards themselves by the way they treat us. I am currently in a similar position, but I actually see that being the one who has been diagnosed with something as being strong- we're honest and open with saying that we're not 'perfect' and don't subscribe to the bs of some mythical definition of 'perfection'..
I believe that family members can reflect their own insecurities onto us, and demonstrate that they may actually be holding onto immature ways of making themselves feel better by finger pointing and trying to bring us down in the attempt to boost their self esteem. :- ♡
The thing that I've been noticing about denial blame shame & finger pointing is that the person who chooses to do this and treat others this way is effectively placing themselves in a helpless position- like being on a self-esteem treadmill going nowhere.. because the people who use these tactics are putting their self esteem in the hands of others, without actually actively *doing* anything about it ♡
It's our choice whether we want to let them bring us down at our own expense, or not. ;-)
This is the way I am now seeing it.

June, 4 2015 at 10:30 pm

I also enjoyed my eccentricity before my diagnosis. Afterward, I felt like I didn't have an accurate view of myself, and lost confidence. That was a devastating blow. I liked myself before, even with the symptoms, I still had hope. I knew that I could feel better, I remembered feeling better. Now, it's hard to trust those memories. Maybe I was wrong all along. My family no longer reaches out to me. I'm afraid they don't want to bother with me anymore. I can't understand why they're shunning me. I'm sick, not bad. This is when I need them the most, I was there for them when they struggled, without judgement. Where are they now? How could I have offended them enough to abandon me, without talking to them or seeing them? It's all perspective, attitude is everything. If you own it, you rock it, but if it's consuming you, how do you defend yourself against yourself? There's nowhere to hide inside your head.
October, 6 2014 at 5:21 pm

I don't even know how I ended up here, but I thought
this post was great. I do not know who you are but definitely you are going to a famous
blogger if you aren't already ;) Cheers!

November, 2 2012 at 11:55 pm

I was going to make a comment about the "suddenly feeling different" after a diagnosis, but found an earlier comment expressing the same thought. My earliest memories are of being different, alone, a black sheep, racked with guilt for God knows what. Even after years of therapy and being told that I was ok and deserving of love, I still have my doubts. I still struggle with emptiness. My BPD is a little quieter now, but still kills me daily. I am 70 yrs old, and wish for some peace.

Kimberly Jo Klaus
August, 21 2012 at 9:24 am

About that thesaurus, read the biography of the man who wrote that most wonderful of books. He also suffered (probably different name since his time)from mental illness. Also one young girl posted the other day that there is not an antonym for loneliness which I checked in the thesaurus, and that is quite true. Just thoughts to ponder.
Also most of the major contributors to the Oxford English Dictionary were also sufferers of mental illness, the most prominent one being the first person to be convicted of insanity in England. Wonderful stories to read these peoples biographies. And if you research Albert Einstein, you will find his mental deficits as well as his two childrens (one child having been adopted out). So after all these famous people, I took new courage in facing my own dilemmas.

December, 12 2011 at 4:58 am

Being diagnosed and suddenly feeling different? Yeah right. I guess I can't speak for everyone, but I'm pretty sure the feelings of exclusion comes long before the diagnosis. It isn't just the medication or the diagnosis that makes a person feel different. It's the symptoms of the disorder that causes those feelings.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Natalie Jeanne Champagne
December, 12 2011 at 5:00 am

Hi, Boomzy:
I agree. The feelings do come before the diagnosis. Often, we stumble through life with a feeling that we are different. Thank you for pointing this out. I sincerely appreciate your feedback.

December, 9 2011 at 10:28 am

While this article tries to address the issue of how alienated a diagnoses of mental illness makes you feel. The well intentioned warm fuzzy at the end of "You are unique, just like everyone else." Just came across as anticlimactic. As someone who has been called crazy and told I don't belong by members of my own family after a diagnoses of bi-polar, this was not something that left me feeling hopeful.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Natalie Jeanne Champagne
December, 9 2011 at 2:08 pm

I do appreciate this comment and agree with you in that 500 words cannot begin to describe these feelings. Many books have been written on the subject, long and important ones. I had hoped I could briefly touch on the topic. Thank you so much for providing a different opinion.

Hope on Hope
December, 9 2011 at 8:19 am

What is it about us humans that wants to use labels and categorize things (and people)? Your article encourages us to resist that urge and simply treat people as the unique individuals they are. It's a message that we need to hear over and over again, with reference to the full spectrum of the human family. Thanks for expressing it so well for the mental health community.
Hope on Hope

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Natalie Jeanne Champagne
December, 9 2011 at 2:11 pm

Hi, Hope:
Thank you for this comment. We live in a society that both makes feel we need to 'fit in' and at the same time be different. It can feel impossible to figure it all out--that's why I encourage people to just work to accept themselves!

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