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Overcoming the Global Stigma of Mental Illness

May 2, 2020

Mental illness affects us all either directly or indirectly. Actually, there’s a chance that someone you know is dealing with mental illness at this very moment. It can be your coworker, friend or even a family member. Unfortunately, there are so many negative attitudes and beliefs towards mental illness and the people who are actually dealing with their mental conditions.

That said, it’s crucial that we all first understand that there remains a stigma against mental health. And in order to break this cycle, we need to start accepting that mental health deserves more of our attention, effort, and focus. Typically, stigma is like a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance or the overall quality of a particular person. More often than not, we as the society tend to place this mark of disgrace on people who are suffering from mental health conditions. We continue to stigmatize anything that seems different, less-than, or any signs of abnormality.

Society has made it that mental illness is strictly associated with poverty and homelessness, thus putting labels on people and endorsing stereotypes such as “crazy”, “psycho” or having mental problems. In addition to these labels, the assumption is often that mental illness is not something someone can suffer from. This belief continues to be perpetuated because psychological conditions are unseen an in turn, difficult for the untrained eye to verify. This stigma, in most cases, leads to discrimination or worse. Sometimes the discrimination might be evident like someone remarking on your condition or treatment. However, in other cases, it can be subtle and unintentional like people avoiding you because they think you are unstable.

But now, we all need to understand that no one is perfect and be more accepting of people. Also, we need to normalize the conversation surrounding mental health just as we do with any other medical condition. That’s the best way to help stop the stigma surrounding mental health conditions.

We Need to Normalize the Conversation on Mental Illness!

The number of people succumbing to mental illness is on the rise every year. However, it’s still surprising how the conversation about mental health isn’t yet a regular thing in our society. Many people still see it as a taboo and believe that they actually need to bottle up the issue or that they can just handle things on their own. Hence making it hard for people with mental health issues to talk about their condition even when it becomes debilitating.

Usually, when dealing with mental illness, someone needs support from their inner circle as they already carry a heavy burden. The society today may push to make you feel ashamed and helpless. However, it is all of our responsibility to lean on the available resources that help support our mental health. That said, let’s look at some tips on how to overcome the global stigma of mental illness.

Tips on Overcoming Mental Illness Stigma

1.    Educate Yourself and People Around You

First, you need to understand mental illness can manifest in a wide range of ways. It may range from depression and anxiety to bipolar disorder and substance abuse. These conditions affect our behaviors or emotional states. Therefore, they have a significant impact on a person’s ability to not only function but also engage in satisfying personal relationships.

2.    Be Mindful of the Language You Use

Word choice is a very crucial matter. That said, when you talk to someone who has a particular condition, avoid using terms and phrases like ‘psycho’ or ‘crazy’ or ‘take your meds’ or ‘you’re bipolar’. It is not helping anyone to shame the other person. Instead, just have a conversation with the person about what they are going through with compassion and empathy. Know that certain words could be potentially sensitive for someone who have lived with mental health conditions.

3.    Advocate for Equal Treatment

To stop the stigmatization, people need to understand that mental illness is just that – an illness affecting the mind, body, emotions, and behaviors. In the same way, no one has a hard time understanding diabetes because it’s visible to the eye. This is the same way we should go about treating mental health conditions.

4.    Lastly, Empower and Be Compassionate

Instead of shaming people who are dealing with mental health conditions, empower them. Continually remind your loved ones that they are not defined by their diagnosis and that recovery is possible. If they refer to themselves as bipolar, encourage them by reminding them that their condition is not all that they are (just as “I’m diabetic”). We are all so much more than just one label can describe or limit us to be. Also, be compassionate and check on friends and family you suspect might be going through a hard time. They just may need your shoulder to lean on; or you on theirs!

As long as we continually talk about mental illness and try to raise awareness on the STIGMA surrounding the issue, aren’t we also continuing leading the discussion on the topic with a negative connotation? This seems to be a bit counterproductive when we need to move the discussion forward, at the very least, towards tolerance. Shouldn’t we, instead, change the conversation to lead with a more positive representation of mental health that promotes acceptance? Instead of ‘Erase the stigma on mental illness’, let’s speak out and encourage one another to ‘Honor Mental Health’!

References

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) (2018). Overcoming stigma. Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/October-2018/Overcoming-Stigma.

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) (2017). 9 ways to fight mental health stigma. Retrieved from https://www.nami.org/blogs/nami-blog/october-2017/9-ways-to-fight-mental-health-stigma.

Written by Bilha Gitari

Edited by Tracie Stewart

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