May is Mental Health Awareness Month, which is devoted to ending the stigma surrounding mental illness. The mental health stigma may seem daunting to reverse, but there is a myriad of ways we can work to combat it. In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, I asked people from all walks of life how we can reduce the mental health stigma. I hope their enlightening words inspire you to work to eliminate the stigma.
1. Discuss mental health without shame.
“Start talking to people [about] mental health, and [don’t be] afraid to discuss. Talk to family, friends, colleagues [and] neighbors, and build from there with more people. Encourage [others] to talk about [mental illness] and ways to remove the stigma.” — Sofia
“Talk about mental illness and have real, open discussions about it and realize it’s nothing to be ashamed to talk about because mental health is so important.” — Larissa
“I think one way [we could] reduce the stigma is by talking about mental health. We all have it, so why not talk about it? We need to normalize it [like] any other physical condition that we can have.” — Yujia
2. Document your mental health transformation.
“I think the best way to reduce stigma is by exercising courage and documenting our struggles and transformation. There’s no shame in admitting you need help.” — Molly
3. View people with mental illness as people first.
“[See that] people with mental illness are still people first.” — Sydney
“Mental health needs to be talked about on a more personal level first [and a more clinical level] second. There is a person behind the figures and charts you need to get to know first, and the diagnosis comes last. People [with mental illness] are still people. Treat them first.” — Jessica
“I think we can reduce the [mental health] stigma by working not to reduce people to their mental illness. Mental illness [may] already be all-consuming for the person [who] lives with it, so let’s all work harder to see it as just a slice of who someone is, not the defining factor.” — Kat
4. Show empathy for those living with mental illness.
“We [could] reduce [the mental health stigma] by talking to people with mental illness and [trying] to [empathize] instead of judge.” — Louis
5. Make people aware of mental illness.
“We need to make more people aware [of mental illness]. I believe that if more people are in tune with what is going on, then maybe they will be more tolerant of what is right in front of them.” — Rivka
6. Speak up if you notice signs of mental illness.
“[We could] end the [mental health] stigma by speaking up if we see signs of mental illness.” — Tylia
7. Recognize how common mental health conditions are.
“We can reduce mental health stigma by recognizing that 1 in 5 people deal with a mental illness in [any] given year. They deserve support, resources and compassion.” — Adrian
8. Be an agent of change.
“We need to be the change that people see. We [may] not see change unless [those of us with mental illness] are the voice to help us.” — Daniel
9. Advocate for ongoing mental health education.
“I think a great place for us to start as a society is education — making sure people learn about how common mental health issues are and what some common ones may look like. I think [mental health] education at a younger age is so important.” -Megan
“I believe the quickest way to [reduce] the stigma is to educate others.” — Katrina
“[We need to educate] the masses about mental illness in order to reduce [the stigma]. If people are uneducated, there is still a stigma about mental illness.” — Dakota
10. Learn about specific mental health diagnoses.
“I think it’s vital that [medical] professionals [in particular] are not afraid of certain diagnoses and are willing to learn when they don’t understand something.” — Andee
11. Foster a culture that allows men to feel comfortable with asking for help.
“Men [in particular] are taught from the youngest of ages that seeking help is a sign of weakness. I jokingly say that most men would rather be lost than ask for directions. We have to change that! We need to create a dynamic in which help-seeking is OK and viewed as a signal of greater strength.” — Casey
12. Don’t be afraid to disclose your mental illness.
“Don’t be afraid to tell other people you have a mental illness because if you are ashamed of it, then other people [may] also see it as shameful.” — Katie
13. Don’t joke about mental illness.
“I think something a lot of people don’t consider is being careful with the jokes they make. For example, [when] someone has a really bad day and says, “I want to die” as a joke. Things like that can make it difficult for someone [who is actually struggling with their mental health] to come forward because they might feel like they won’t be taken seriously.” — Abbey
14. Change the way you think about mental health.
“Hanging onto your [misconceptions about mental illness may] only showcase your mental well-being. Help yourself mend those thoughts, and you [may] be surprised as to how many people you can help.” — Vaishnavi
15. Acknowledge that illness is illness.
“Acknowledge that illness is illness, whether it is mental or physical.” — Maria
16. Don’t be afraid to go to therapy.
“As someone who goes to therapy, I think more people shouldn’t be so afraid to go to therapy. It doesn’t mean you’re ‘crazy.’ It means you want to be a better person and have a grasp on yourself [and] your life. I think one of the biggest stigmas is ‘therapy’ equals ‘crazy,’ and it’s quite the opposite.” — Lexi
17. Be open and honest about your mental health.
“I think that one important step to ‘breaking the cycle’ of mental health stigmas is by being completely open and honest with those around us about our illnesses and struggles. By doing this, we [can] humanize the illness and put real faces to the diagnoses.” — Megan
“Share your personal experiences with mental illness. Openly, unapologetically sharing your mental health story can spark a chain reaction, allowing others to feel comfortable with disclosing their mental illnesses as well. Your story may soon become a dialogue, then can transform into a conversation, which could effectively end the silence surrounding mental illness.” — Kelly
“Open up about mental health, and you’ll be amazed [by] how many others [may] open up, too.” — Rhiannon
18. Recognize that it takes a village to spread mental health awareness.
“[Know that] advocates can only do so much. It’s up to everyone else to take the wheel and help us [spread awareness]. [Raising mental health awareness] takes a village.” — Juliana
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Stigma — one of the more difficult aspects of mental illness that patients and their families encounter again and again — is the subject that took center stage at the annual seminar held by the Ezer Mizion Mental Health Division’s Family Counseling Center, together with Israel’s Health Department.
The well-known authority in the field, Professor Avraham Weizman, head of the Mental Health Center research unit at Geheh and director of the Flossenstein Center for Medical Research at Tel Aviv University is deeply involved with people in this sector and is in constant contact with Chananya Chollak, Ezer Mizion International Chairman. Prof. Weizman discussed the effects of stigma in the overall protocol when dealing with mental health patients. The statistical data and studies he presented were intended to refute many of the common stigmas regarding people with mental illness.
Chananya Chollak spoke about the damage that concealment causes by preventing people from obtaining the appropriate treatment in time. He called upon the public to display responsibility and get help as soon as possible, so as to increase the chances of optimistically resuming life routine. How many times have professional staff members cried to him, saying, “If only he had come to be treated earlier! The prognosis would have been so much better.”
Prominent community leader, Rabbi Moshe Stein, a dayan on Rav Wosner’s beis din, discussed the halachic (Jewish Law) issues relating to mental health. He emphasized that it is important to present the true story to the Rabbis who will be discreet in advising when and how much should be revealed and to whom.
Rabbi Avraham Rubinstein, mayor of Bnei Brak, greeted the seminar attendees and lauded the tremendous contribution of Ezer Mizion in general, and particularly their Mental Health Division, to the Jewish people. Ezer Mizion offers a variety of psychological support services and rehabilitative programs for people suffering from psychological disorders, emotional issues and mental illnesses. These services include:
A Big Brother/Sister Program that pairs individuals suffering from mental illnesses with trained mentors who provide companionship, offer assistance with basic daily function, and teach the skills necessary for independent living.
Rehabilitative employment centers that provide mentally handicapped people with basic vocational training and employment, and ease their integration into free market employment.
A psychological referral team that recommends appropriate psychologists, psychiatrists and counselors to people grappling with emotional disturbances, mental health issues or difficult relationships.
A network of psychiatrists and psychologists throughout Israel who provide their services at a discount to patients referred by Ezer Mizion.
A 24-hour crisis hotline for non-medical emergencies, including mental health crises such as suicide attempts or severe manic episodes.
As the seminar closed, the hundreds of participants expressed great satisfaction at having received so much knowledge and empowerment in the subject of mental health as a whole, and specifically in the area of stigmas. Attendees hope to have more similar lectures which will gradually affect public opinion and look forward to a time when mental illness will present no more of a stigma than any medical condition.
Ezer Mizion provides services to over 660,000 of Israel’s population annually in addition to its Bone Marrow Registry which saves the lives of Jewish cancer patients the world over.
Removing the negative stigma associated with mental health will save lives.
Posted July 11, 2017
“It’s an odd paradox,” wrote actress and mental illness destigmatization advocate Glenn Close, “that a society which can now speak openly and unabashedly about topics that were once unspeakable still remains largely silent when it comes to mental illness.”
This paradox is indeed odd, but it’s also more than that: it’s dangerous. Stigma can make people feel somehow less-than, damaged, or abnormal because of a diagnosis of mental illness often leading to negative consequences. People may avoid getting life-saving treatment, refrain from reaching out to offer support to others in similar situations, or remain silent instead of advocating for policy and structural changes that could benefit everyone.
It’s past time for the stigma that comes with mental illness in our society to be acknowledged, examined, and disposed of – it’s simply been around far too long and hurt too many people. The good news is that there are real steps that can be taken on the path to removing stigma.
We can all start with these five steps:
1.Remember that language matters; it’s worth changing your language habits.
The terms we use when discussing mental health issues matter. Advocates call for using person-first language, which puts the focus on the person instead of the diagnosis. Whenever possible, question the use of the term “patient” and try to avoid it; the term “patient” is from the Latin “patiens” meaning “one who suffers,” which has a pejorative connotation and risks dehumanizing the person. Every person is more than a label or mental health diagnosis, but the language we use can sometimes serve to obscure that fact, unfortunately. So, for example, instead of referring to someone as “a schizophrenic,” rephrase to simply state that the person has schizophrenia. Avoid phrases such as “suffers from” which may incorrectly describe an individual’s experiences.
2. Be an advocate for the use of ADA accommodations in schools and workplaces.
Often, minor modifications to school or work environments can make a big difference when it comes to a person’s ability to thrive in those places. Robust use of the rights guaranteed by the Americans with Disabilities Act helps create more opportunities for everyone to benefit from diverse and inclusive workplaces and classrooms. Skillful application of the ADA requirements and guidelines ensures that people can capitalize on their strengths rather than being excluded due to a disability. An inclusive environment can decrease stigma and move towards focusing on positive attributes and abilities.
3. Help work to integrate mental health care into primary care settings.
The ability to access necessary mental health care should not be a luxury. Individuals should be able to receive flexible care for mental illnesses in the setting of their choice with collaboration from their primary care provider – at least as easily as they can with their other physical health concerns. When mental health services are available within primary care settings, it helps normalize the experience of mental illness as another health concern, rather than a stigmatized disorder that is somehow the fault of the person who bears it.
4. Be someone who helps start conversations about self-stigma.
Self-stigma is a concept that is too infrequently mentioned in mental health treatment circles: the term refers to the internalization of public stigma whereby a person applies negative beliefs to his or her own self-concept. It’s such a common and harmful misapplication, and clinicians need to start talking about it with individuals to raise awareness about it, and root it out wherever it appears to be present. Some people feel uncomfortable directly confronting issues related to self-stigma, but it’s crucial to remember that recognizing and managing our own negative self-concept goes a long way towards increasing compassion and empathy towards others.
5. Discard the dichotomous view of health and illness.
People experience a range of normal reactions to life stressors and unfortunately we tend to over-pathologize, especially when someone has a mental health diagnosis. A true recovery orientation views mental health as a spectrum, not an “all or nothing” state of being. Everyone is working on something. It will always be true that improving our health (mental and physical) is a marathon, not a sprint. If we can figure out the things that make it easier for us to attend to our mental health – including the de-stigmatization of mental illnesses of all kinds – then it’s important that we pursue them as fully as we can.
Do you or someone you are close to suffer from a mental illness? Have you received stigmatized responses because you have been honest about your diagnosis?
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If so, do not lose hope! You are not strange. You are not weak. Here are 5 tips that will help you get through the sting of the Mental Health Stigma.
1. Realize Their Ignorance
It is very important to note that a large contribution of the mental health stigma is due to the pure ignorance of people who have not suffered from mental illness themselves.
I t’s so easy to be reactionary and get mad if someone says something that is derogatory towards your mental illness.
The long and short of it is – that won’t help! Do your best to educate them with your knowledge of mental illness.
It can be a very freeing experience.
2. Join The Mental Health Community
You are not alone. It’s actually surprising how not-alone you are! 1 in 4 of us will experience issues with our mental health at some stage in our lives.
And there is no better place (that I have found) to connect than Twitter. There is a wonderful, growing community on Twitter.
Whether you choose to be anonymous or completely yourself – you can feel free to discuss however you feel with like-minded people going through similar journeys.
Now that is great therapy.
3. Stand Up For What You Believe In
So many people, charities, and organizations are fighting to break the mental health stigma.
Why not be a part of it? You can make a pledge, fundraise and/or write about your experiences with mental illness.
The more you share your story the better you yourself will feel. Not to mention the inspiration you can bring to fellow sufferers!
4. Take A Close Look At Your Friends
Toxic friends are something you should certainly be aware of.
Ask yourself – do my friends support me or put me down? Do they make me feel good or bad about myself?
Do I feel empowered or helpless? You have the power to dictate who is in your life and who isn’t.
If a “friend” contributes to you feeling bad about your mental illness – maybe it’s time to ask the question – do they deserve to have such an influence on what I think of myself?
5. Recognize You Are Enough
Never give up. Whether it’s your boss who fails to understand your low days or your family not being able to support you the way you need.
Never give up. You are enough. Just because you possess this diagnosis doesn’t mean you don’t deserve the life you dream for.
Mindset is everything and I firmly believe that once you realize you are trying your best and that is enough – you are unstoppable.
No one should face stigma of any kind. However, that is in the ideal world. Stigma happens. However, stigma cannot be condoned. Stigma can seem more damaging than the actual disease. Stigma of mental illness is no different.
Here are 3 steps in dealing with the stigma of mental illness
#1 For Every Negative Thing You Hear, Listen To Or Say 15 Positive Things.
I heard this about some research that wrote this. You need to hear something good concerning yourself especially if you have just heard some out of turn joke that has got you upset. It is like taking a spiritual bath just like you would have a wash after being spluttered with mud.
With a spiritual bath, you need to remind yourself what God says about you. You are the apple of His eye. That you are created in His beautiful image. When God sees you, He sees this beautiful created being specially handcrafted and selected.
Get books such as the Meditation and Confession series books by E. Onah. There are positive declarations that you can recite to yourself in these book that will lift your spirit and may you value yourself. Watch encouraging Christian messages. Listen to worship songs. Read the Bible.
#2 Know Who You Are
Not everyone with schizophrenia is a murderer. And if you have committed murder or nearly did, well thank God this is a Christian site where the Bible teaches us that there is no sin too big that cannot be cleansed with the Blood of Jesus. God says our sins can be made as white as snow. “Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18).
Settle the matter with God. Repent of your sin and let His love and forgiveness fill your soul. Paul who wrote most of the New Testament was the chief executioner in overseeing the death of the Christian martyr, Stephen. Yet God called this ‘murderer’ into ministry. Paul repented of his cruel acts and became a very changed man!
#3 Educate Others Without Being Defensive
The reason why people stigmatize others is due to ignorance largely. Sometimes it because of culture. An example of this is in the Bible with the story of the woman with the issue of the blood. Our condition meant that if she was seen in public she would be stoned as she was unclean. But the power of God still went through her body and healed her. The power did not discriminate. When you have the opportunity to talk about mental illness, do so. When we started defying this disease, we were quick to speak up and share our testimonies at every opportunity. We were still a long way from defeating the disease when we first did this, but by speaking up we were letting people know about the disease. Today, at every opportunity, Defying Mental Illness is fighting the stigma of this disease.
According to Mental Health America, a community-based nonprofit focused on promoting “mental health as a critical part of overall wellness,” 18% of U.S. adults have a mental health condition. This translates to over 43 million Americans, 9.6 million of whom experience suicidal thoughts, while 56% do not receive treatment.
Among the youth, mental health is worsening, increasing from 5.9% in 2012 to 8.2% in 2015. Of the youth with severe depression, 76% receive no or inadequate treatment.
These numbers paint a grim picture, especially when you take into consideration that people with mental disabilities also contend with prejudice and stereotypes resulting from misconceptions about mental illness, which, in turn, makes them hesitant to seek help or feel ashamed of themselves.
Northcentral University students and alumni of the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences are working to provide solutions to issues surrounding mental health, and for people with mental disorders, there are things you can do to fight the stigma around mental illness.
How to Fight the Stigma Around Mental Health
Talk About Your Experiences
Raise awareness for mental health by openly talking about what you’re going through. Not only can sharing your story be cathartic for you, but it may also be the encouragement others need to seek much-needed help.
Know the Facts
Take steps to more fully understand your condition. Participate in self-help or discussion groups to stay informed, expand your knowledge, and increase your confidence.
Be Mindful of Language
The language used has a profound impact on the conversation surrounding mental health. According to the experts, it is important to “stop labeling people as diseases.” Mental Health America encourages the use of “people first” language that “acknowledges the person first, then the condition or disability.”
Rather than call someone a “schizophrenic” or “cancer patient,” with “people first” language, we refer to them as “a person with schizophrenia” or “a person with cancer.”
Take every opportunity to educate others on the impact of their biases against people with mental health problems. Challenge their misconceptions and share with them the facts.
Support family, friends, or colleagues with mental health conditions. Encourage them to get well, and do for them what you would want them to do for you.
Become a Volunteer
Support organizations already working to make a difference in the lives of people with mental illnesses. Send donations, volunteer at a suicide prevention hotline, or participate in events such as a NAMIWalk.
Get Professional Help
If you think you need help but have been putting off seeing a mental health professional for fear of being judged, ridiculed, or harassed by people you know or don’t even know, consider what a mental health provider can do for you:
- Create a plan to solve your problems
- Change self-limiting behaviors
- Map your goals
- Develop self-confidence
- Become stronger in challenging situations
Stigma: Harder to Fight Than the Illness?
Mental health prejudices exist in equal measure among people suffering from mental disorders as well as those that don’t. That’s why mental health professionals believe we all have a part to play in helping to fight the stigma of this debilitating illness.
Looking to understand how NCU’s psychology programs elevate students’ impact on mental health? Call us at 866-776-0331 or fill out the form below to request for information.
Mental Health Conversation Starters About Stigma
Asking for help or support can be difficult no matter the situation, but it can be especially hard when it comes to talking about mental health. Because of common misconceptions surrounding mental illness and addiction, many people find it uncomfortable to openly talk about mental health, creating a harmful stigma. This mental health stigma is predominantly seen among youth because young people are often portrayed as worry-free, light-hearted and not easily burdened with the tasks of daily living. However, we know that 50% of all chronic mental illness begins by age 14 and 75% begins by age 24.
We may never know exactly how to end the stigma around mental health in our society, but we can work to form a sense of awareness around the issue and keep our loved ones informed. As people become increasingly more comfortable talking about mental health issues, we can normalize mental health.
4 Conversation Topics That Can Help End Youth Mental Health Stigma
Here are some simple exercises and mental health conversation starters to help you start to draw awareness in your daily life:
1. What is stigma?
Sometimes it’s hard to talk about our struggles with mental health because we don’t know how to explain it or sometimes it doesn’t feel safe to do so. Stigma is anything that stereotypes, places a pre-judgment, or puts labels on a person, situation, or idea. Change to Chill focuses on reducing stigma around stress, anxiety, depression and other related conditions that are common with teens.
Mental health conversation starters:
- What does stigma mean to you? What does it look like? What does it feel like?
- How have you experienced stigma before?
- How have you ever applied stigma to a person, situation or idea (It’s okay, we all have!)?
2. 1 in 5 people will have a mental illness in their lifetime.
According to NAMI, 1 in 5 people have or will receive a mental illness diagnosis in their lifetime. That might sound pretty scary, but it doesn’t have to be. Part of addressing stigma is taking the scary factor out of mental health. Mental illness is just like other chronic health conditions – think of acne, diabetes, high blood pressure, or c eliac disease. We don’t apply the same kind of stigma to people who have these types of health conditions as we do to those living with a mental illness, even though they are all common, manageable and treatable!
Mental health conversation starters:
- How does it make you feel to learn 1 in 5 people have or will have a mental illness at some point in their life? What are ways that you could talk about this with your friends or family?
- How does learning that mental illness is a health condition, just like any other health condition, change the way you think about mental illness?
3. What are stressors in your life?
Sometimes people apply stigma to those living with a mental illness, thinking they just can’t “deal” with life and stress the way everyone else can. But no one has their life completely together. Everyone has their own unique stressors and life circumstances and their own unique ways of coping with them. Learning what stresses you out is beneficial to everyone and can help reduce stress and, ultimately, improve your mental health.
Identifying stressors as a mindfulness practice:
- Identify some of the main stressors in your life – these could be anything! If you are comfortabl e doing so , write them down and share them with a friend or peer. Discuss the differences and similarities on your lists and brainstorm some healthy ways to cope.
4. Practice active listening..
Often, there is a misconception that people who are having a hard time want to be left alone to deal with their issues by themselves. While this may sometimes be true for people living with mental illness, it is often challenging for people who are struggling to reach out for support – it’s not always that they want to be left alone, it might just be that they don’t know how to ask for support or know what kind of support they need!
Practice being a supportive listener using these tips:
- Find a safe and comfortable place
- Ask questions that allow the person to talk about how they are doing openly
- Be an active listener – listen but don’t interrupt
- Respond with understanding and empathy
If you want a printed resource with these same topics, download and print off our conversation starters about stigma.
Together we can learn how to end stigma around mental health
By engaging in simple mindfulness practices and talking to your friends and family about mental health issues, we can get one step closer to normalizing mental health issues and ending the stigma.
Change to Chill wants to help end the mental health stigma among youth in our community. We offer free online mental health resources for anyone who may be struggling with mental health issues and doesn’t know how to reach out for help.
To learn more about the importance and impact of the language we use, download our Language Matters handout.
Can you imagine a mentally ill patient shouldering the blame and guilt for his/her condition? Well, it happens!
Stigmas come into play in cruel and destructive ways. They can leave patients dealing with depression and anxiety feeling like a dramatic attention-seeker who always tries to overshadow others. People with eating disorders are held accountable for eating too much or too little without understanding why they actually do so.
People with stress and anger management issues often shoulder the blame for failing to manage their emotions. Many of us have felt belittled after people describe our suffering as a phase that will pass over. Many of us have felt powerless when people describe our symptoms forces we can control with willpower and self-control.
That’s not how mental illnesses work, and stigma typically emerges from a lack of awareness around mental health issues. People fail to understand these symptoms and make mentally ill patients feel ashamed for behaviors they cannot control. Stigma holds unyielding and unprecedented power, and it’s time we started combatting it on an individual level.
Keep reading to discover powerful ways to deal with the stigma around mental health issues.
Self-awareness is the first step to combat stigma around mental health and helps patients who are struggling internally. How can you make yourself more aware of mental health challenges? There are various avenues, resources, and platforms. You can start by devouring literature and books on human psychology and mental illnesses.
You can volunteer for community efforts and sign up for informal training and psychological courses in your college/university. You can also sign up for online courses, training programs, or pursue an academic degree in psychology. It would be best if you decided on the ideal learning curve for your interests.
Do you wish to pursue a career in helping people with mental illnesses? Or do you merely want to gain more information to become a good Samaritan? Many people shy away from a career in psychology because they don’t want to pursue a medicinal program. However, you don’t necessarily have to get a hardcore healthcare degree to become a psychologist. Consider education in allied healthcare. In fact, if you’re wondering what can you do with an allied health degree, the program will enable you to work with patients suffering from various mental conditions and dispositions. You can explore specializations in therapy and holistic treatments, alongside training as a licensed counselor. You can also channel your expertise towards research or volunteer help to uplift your local community.
Open a Discussion
Are you suffering from a mental disorder or caring for a patient diagnosed with PTSD or schizophrenia? People who experience mental suffering or the illness of a loved one realize the gravity of mental diseases, disorders, and the consequences of stigma. They are better equipped and aware of the severity of these illnesses, coping mechanisms, and symptoms.
It is essential to share information by opening a discussion and creating a community that functions as a support network for mental health patients. You can fight stigma by opening a conversation, even if you do it online. It doesn’t matter how many people you reach. Even if you manage to impact the life of one person, consider your mission accomplished.
Even as a caregiver, you can achieve incredible feats by helping other family members understand mental conditions and symptoms. The goal is to overcome misinformation and misrepresentation and help people understand a mentally ill person’s struggle, and not shame them as they deal with it.
Standing up for them
Do you feel angry when you see people making fun of people on the autism disorder spectrum? Do you find yourself struggling to stay calm when people at work make fun of someone going through a mental illness at work?
It’s time to channel all this anger and frustration towards helping and standing up for victims. But, how to become a victim advocate and lend support to those in need? You can carve out a promising and rewarding career as a victim advocate and psychologist. Or, you can simply do your part as a good Samaritan and speak out when you witness discrimination against the mentally ill.
There are many ways we can stand up for victims who suffer from mental illnesses. We can identify many patients in our communities who are on the verge of joblessness, homelessness, domestic issues, or physical danger. We can help stage an intervention or encourage them to get the help they need.
Language truly matters
When it comes to fighting stigma, how you choose your words and reasoning makes a big difference. We commonly use demeaning and derogatory terms while describing mental illnesses. Autistic children and those with learning disabilities are frequently referred to as dumb. This is downright cruel and insensitive! It is crucial to understand these illnesses and use language very, very carefully.
It is crucial to avoid referring to mental illnesses as adjectives. Most people fail to realize that their language is problematic and can hurt people diagnosed with mental diseases. It’s not justifiable to advise depression patients to muster willpower and rise above their feelings of sadness.
Such statements only reflect a lack of knowledge and insensitivity towards the patient’s plight. If you don’t know what to say, it’s best to stay quiet and offer silent support instead of saying the wrong thing that could hurt a patient’s self-esteem.
It is essential for all of us, as a society, to advocate for equal treatment for physical and mental illnesses. People are mindful of patients diagnosed with heart diseases and cancer, yet they’re insensitive to patients with depression and anxiety.
People understand the dynamics of rheumatoid arthritis, but bipolar disorders are challenging to comprehend. It is crucial to advocate and encourage equality between mental and physical illnesses. When people understand a mental disorder’s facts, they are more mindful while making comments and observations.
When someone struggles to get through day after day, a kind word and sincere smile can make a tremendous difference. The most impactful way to fight off mental health stigma is to uplift, encourage and empower mentally ill patients.
We always try to make a significant impact, but it’s the more minor gestures that genuinely make a difference!
On a recent weekday evening at San Diego’s St. Mary Magdalene church, a group of people gathered for a crash course on mental illness.
Instructor Paul De Martini called the class to order.
“OK, we want to welcome you to the opening class of NAMI Family-to-Family education. We are very excited that this day has finally come, and we can be together,” he said.
NAMI stands for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Their Family-to-Family program is a twelve-week course that aims to give people a better understanding of mental illness.
The course is offered nationwide and in Canada and Mexico. More than 300,000 people have taken it.
De Martini told the audience that over the next couple of months, they’d learn some coping skills, communication techniques, and strategies for dealing with a crisis.
“It’s the essence of what NAMI is about, which is really family members helping, supporting, and guiding one another through the incredible challenge of mental illness,” he said.
For Fisher, It’s Personal
Everyone in the room had a family member with a serious mental illness, including Anita Fisher. She’s the director of education for the local NAMI chapter.
When her son was 21, he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. He was discharged from the Army and came back to San Diego.
“And then I didn’t want to tell anyone,” Fisher recalled. “So, we had our own sort of self-stigma, because it was this mental illness, OK? We knew it fell under that category of mental illness, and that’s not something that you talk about a lot.”
Fisher and her husband didn’t know what to do.
But when their son became homeless and started to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol, Fisher knew that they had to do something.
She heard about NAMI and decided to give them a call.
“I thought they were gonna say, ‘Oh my goodness, I’ve never heard that before in my life’, but they didn’t,” Fisher remembered. “They said, ‘I understand, I’ve had some of that in my own life.’”
Fisher and her husband took the Family-to-Family course. It made them realize that mental illness affects tens of millions of families. And it helped them get over their own biases about their son’s condition.
NAMI isn’t the only organization trying to fight the stigma against mental illness.
The San Diego County Health and Human Services Agency has an active anti-stigma campaign called It’s Up to Us.
Cal State San Marcos Fights Stigma
And Cal State San Marcos is trying to do its part. The school is engaged in a year-long effort to destigmatize mental illness.
Last Halloween, the campus hosted a mental health fair.
The event featured booths staffed by mental health providers, and an exhibit, Real Monsters, by British artist Toby Allen.
Each of Allen’s colorful illustrations depicts a mental health condition as a grotesque monster.
Sophomore Melissa Munoz said she got it.
“I think they’re trying to show how all these disorders they can be very, like dangerous or malevolent, or they can really be seen as monsters to other people that destroy other human beings,” she said.
Becky Calica works with the campus chapter of a national group called Active Minds. The group encourages students to talk about mental health challenges.
Calica admitted it’s not easy.
“I’ve experienced anger and anxiety, but I never knew how to talk about it,” she explained. “It’s quite like feeling like you’re screaming on the inside, but no one can hear you. And you shouldn’t be screaming on the inside, you should be talking about it out loud.”
Cheryl Berry, the school’s mental health educator, has spent years fighting the stigma against mental illness.
She tells students when someone breaks their arm, they don’t try to take care of it on their own — they see a doctor.
“And at the same time,” Berry said, “We should feel that we can address our emotional and mental health issues by going to see a therapist, or a counselor, or a psychologist or psychiatrist.”
Education Is Key
Anita Fisher believes education is the key to ending stigma. She feels so strongly about it that she left her career as a banking executive to work for NAMI.
Fisher said we need to normalize mental illness and stop blaming people who need help.
“My son didn’t go out and catch mental illness,” she pointed out. “He didn’t know this was coming, and we didn’t know this was coming. And somehow, we’ve been treated as though it’s his fault.”