If you suffer with mental illness in our society, there’s a large chance that you’ve been made to feel uncomfortable about your illness. It could be being blamed for your mental health, being mocked with names or being told that you should be able to control and moderate your illness without professional help.
That is the stigma.
Stigma makes people who are already suffering through an illness feel bad or ashamed for just being the person that they are. While those who suffer can point to the fact that the stigma is absurd, we don’t mock people who fall ill with heart disease or break a bone, there are real-world consequences to the societal norm of stigmatizing mental health.
This stigma can discourage or outright prevent people who are suffering from receiving the care that they need. For a population of people already carrying such a burden of pain and confusion, stigma can all-too-often be the final nail in the coffin of dealing with mental illness alone.
While stigmas surrounding mental health have begun to fade in recent years, the pace of progress isn’t quick enough for those who suffer daily.
This Mental Health Awareness Month we want to provide some ideas about how you can reduce mental health stigma in your world, as well as hear about how you try and reduce stigma in your daily life!
1. Make sure you know the facts
Educating yourself about mental health problems can be the first step to understanding and identifying the difference between opinions ground in stigma vs opinions based on facts. We will all hold our own opinions, so you can learn the facts instead of believing the the myths.
2. Talk openly and honestly about mental health
This applies to both sufferers of mental illness and those who don’t. We normalize mental illness and show how common it is by telling those around us our stories and showing that mental illness has many faces. But to reduce mental illness-related stigma, we need to feel comfortable having conversations about it. These conversations can help educate others on the facts vs myths of mental illness, or give someone a perspective they’ve never had. But the stigmas we hold about mental health are a conversational taboo that hold people back from receiving care. The more we talk about mental health conditions, the more normalized it becomes.
3. Talk openly and honestly about treatment
This may seem obvious, but it’s part and parcel with the last point. One of the most taboo parts of seeking care for your mental illness is seeing a therapist or psychiatrist. But more than 1/4 of adults have received care for mental health. We won’t normalize seeing a therapist until we’re talking about what it’s actually like seeing a therapist!
4. Recognize the language you use
You can fight stigma in your life by being conscious of the language you use to talk about people. We may not realize it, but a lot of the language we use can be derogatory towards those who are mentally ill. It’s easy to refrain from using mental health conditions as adjectives and when they recognize it, most people are willing to replace their usage of it with something else because they can see how language can be problematic.
5. Support people, and yourself
We should strive to treat everyone with respect and dignity, and this extends to those who suffer from mental illness. A large percent of vulnerable populations such as the homeless, substance abusers or the incarcerated have incredibly high rates of mental illness. A big part of destigmatizing the conversation around mental illness is to remove the stigma around vulnerable populations by treating them how you’d like others to act toward you if you were in the same situation. If you have family members, friends or co-workers with substance use or mental health problems, support their choices and encourage their efforts to get well. After all, people are just people.
Including you! Those who suffer from mental illness often hold the largest stigma about their illness. To recover and create a world without stigma those who suffer from mental illness can’t hide away from the world. Being apart of the world around you, talking about your experience and showing that a sustainable life with mental illness is possible and normal massively reduce the stigmas our society holds.