“One in 5 Americans is affected by mental health conditions. Stigma is toxic to their mental health because it creates an environment of shame, fear and silence that prevents many people from seeking help and treatment. The perception of mental illness won’t change unless we act to change it.” – National Alliance on Mental Illness
May is Mental Health Awareness Month! It was started in 1949 by the Mental Health America organization and its primary goal is to spread awareness about why we should be talking about mental health. The awareness that is spread during this month is needed to help fight against the stigma that currently surrounds the topic of mental health.
Mental health stigma can be divided into two categories. There is the social stigma, which are the attitudes and beliefs of others directed toward people with a mental illness, and self-stigma, which is the internalized feelings of discrimination by the person with a mental illness.
The stigma around mental health has a lot of consequences. The first being that it makes it hard for those who have a mental illness to seek treatment for fear of judgment from others. This leads to the second, in that those with severe mental illness symptoms may find it hard to remain employed, leading to homelessness.
For those suffering with their mental health, it is important to fight against the stigma. But how?
- Talk openly: If you have a mental illness, talk about it. Tell others how it has affected your life. It may help someone else who is struggling.
- Education: There are a lot of misconceptions about different kinds of mental illnesses. If you have a mental illness, try to educate others on how it affects your life and how it makes you feel. This is a great step to eliminating the social stigma and stereotypes that exist. If you don’t have a mental illness, there are a variety of resources out there you can read online that can help you understand more about mental illness.
- Show compassion towards others with a mental illness. See the person, not the mental illness. Don’t reduce them to a diagnostic label.
- If you overhear others stigmatizing mental illness, speak up. Let them what they are saying is not true or a stereotype, and does more harm than good to those who are suffering with a mental illness.
- Be more careful with your words and don’t use hurtful language. Using words like “crazy” or “psycho,” or casually throwing around terms like “depressed” or “OCD” trivializes mental health conditions.
- Let those suffering with a mental illness that you are there for them and that they are not alone.
For more ways to fight the stigma surrounding mental health, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness Stigma Free website here: https://www.nami.org/stigmafree