Saturday 12 October 2019

Seven Ways You Can Help Fight the Stigma of Mental Illness

By Hailey Parks

Millions of Americans battle mental illness each and every day. Even the people who don’t suffer directly can be affected indirectly by a loved one’s mental illness. However, due to the stigma that often surrounds mental health many people are reluctant to seek the help they desperately need. Despite the wide reach of mental illness, misunderstanding about mental health is widespread as well.

When we break a bone we go to the hospital. When we have a fever or any other physical illness we go to the doctor. Seeking this type of help is not looked down upon. Seeking support for one’s mental health, on the other hand, is often met with stigmatizing language and thinking. Individuals who fail to seek professional help can suffer immensely. Symptoms can get worse, problems can arise within families, friends, and co-workers, and mental illness can negatively impact one’s overall quality of life. Instead of staying quiet about these issues, it is critical to speak up and fight back against the stigma. When someone is struggling with their mental health, it should be normal and acceptable to go see a counselor.

What Is Stigma?

Stigma consists of misconceptions about a subject that causes a person to view the subject in a negative way. It can cause people to feel shame, judgment, and fear when their struggles are met with stigma. Navigating mental illness can be a confusing and painful endeavor, and stigma makes the entire experience worse. It creates immense challenges for those who are suffering, for example, it can stop a person from reaching out for help and obtaining what they need to feel better.

Stigma can manifest in many ways causing a person to feel rejected and judged by his or her loved ones. Often times, a person who is suffering and begins to share his or her emotions with a loved one who stigmatizes mental health is met with certain language that can feel shameful. Some examples of stigmatizing language include:

“It’s not that bad, you are overreacting.”

“Suck it up, other people have it worse.”

“You’re crazy, that’s just irrational thinking.”

Another way that stigma is sometimes portrayed is through the media. For example:

  • Portraying violence as a normal thing among people with mental illness
  • Making it seem as though suicide is caused by an isolated event such as divorce or job loss
  • Suggesting that people with mental illness must be isolated from society
  • Placing the focus on an individual with mental illness rather than a societal issue

When a person suffering becomes the victim of stigma, he or she may choose to suffer in silence rather than reach out for help. The National Alliance on Mental Illness reports that the delay between onset of symptoms and the time a person receives treatment is eleven years. In addition, 90% of people who die by suicide had previously shown symptoms of mental health. That is a staggering amount of time that people are suffering undiagnosed, and far too many needless lives taken. It’s time to make mental illness a priority.

Fighting the Stigma

Fighting against the stigma starts with each and every individual helping to spread awareness and provoke a shift in the way society views mental illness. Here are seven steps you can take to help fight the stigma and encourage those who are suffering to speak up.

1. Educate yourself
Learning about how mental illness affects the world, communities, families, and individuals is the first step to breaking the stigma. Do some research about mental health and read articles from people who have struggled with it. Learn about people close to you who have been affected by mental illness and gain a level of understanding and compassion for those people.

2. Change your thinking
Mental health is too often addressed after a crisis, such as a school shooting, occurs. Instead, start shifting your focus to preventative methods. With any chronic condition, you want to prevent it before it happens. Mental illness should be treated in the same way.

3. Challenge the myths
Challenge the misconceptions about mental health by taking action. See a therapist yourself, practice self-care, and begin normalizing mental health care among your family and your circle of friends.

4. Educate others
Once you have taken action to learn about mental illness and take care of your own mental health, you can begin to educate others. Share your experiences with them and share the resources that you have found. Use both social media and casual settings to normalize discussions around mental illness and mental health care.

5. Get involved
Reach out to your local organizations that support mental illness. See how you can get involved in your community.

6. Become an advocate
Once you get involved in your local community organizations, you can begin to advocate for policies that promote education, prevention, early intervention of mental health, and better access to mental health care.

7. Keep going
Spreading awareness, being involved, and advocating for your beliefs isn’t a one-time deal. Fighting the stigma of mental health is an on-going effort that will take time and patience. Even if you are defeated, keep going. Keep spreading awareness. Keep shedding light on mental illness.

Fighting the stigma of mental health is crucial to improve the well-being of those who suffer. Even if it doesn’t affect you directly, the issue is far-reaching and devastating. By taking small steps to fight the stigma, you can save lives by encouraging people to seek the help they need. You never know who you might help - and you never know how helping that person might change you.

About the Author

Hailey is a passionate writer who shares her experience with co-occurring depression and substance use disorder to help those who are suffering. She does outreach for PAX Memphis to advocate for better dual-diagnosis healthcare for all.


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