1 in 4 Americans, ages 18 and older, suffers from a diagnosable mental disorder (John Hopkins). Research according to American Psychological Association indicates that as many as 1 in 3 first-year college students are impacted by mental health issues. We do a disservice to our friends, family, and community by not openly discussing and building empathy around the foundations of mental illness - something so prevalent in our society.
How can we break down the barriers and stigma surrounding mental health and begin having meaningful conversation about this? Some community-determined ways to raise the profile of mental health promotion from the National Alliance on Mental Illness Blog are highlighted below.
By being open and expressive of our own experiences with mental illness, we can encourage others to do the same. This helps create a supportive environment where those living with mental illness, friends and family can engage with a community and not feel ostracized. It may inspire others to speak out or reach out, finding the support they need.
Learn about mental health. The National Alliance on Mental Illness suggests talking with doctors, reading articles, and spending time on the topic as some of the best ways to understand how trauma and chemical imbalances in the brain can lead to a variety of disorders. By taking the time to educate yourself, you show that you care, and you will be better prepared to offer help and intervene in critical situations.
Using careless language around mental illness can be offensive. Instead of turning serious characteristics of mental illness into humor, consider how those living with a mental illness may interpret your joke. By making light of of OCD, Depression, Anxiety, and other illnesses, you are not advocating health or healing, but rather diminishing everyone’s right to personal wellness.
Some rules to use:
Enjoying a neat environment and liking things orderly is not having OCD. People living with OCD can't control their thoughts or behaviors, even when those thoughts or behaviors are recognized as excessive. Some may need to wash their hands compulsively and with such vigour that they bleed (National Institute of Mental Health).
According to the Mayo Clinic, a panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause. Panic attacks can be very frightening. When panic attacks occur, you might think you're losing control, having a heart attack or even dying.
Language matters. Be cognizant of issues the people around you may be handling and treat them with respect. Do not alienate others with insensitive language that may leave them feeling small, inadequate, or hurt.
While mental illness may not always be as outwardly apparent as physical illness or impairment, it is important to remember that pain and suffering is equally as real. Just as the flu can leave you bedridden, mental illness can lead a person to miss class, need medication, and require treatment. Just as lung cancer can be deduced to a malfunction of the cells within the lungs, mental illness happens because of a chemical malfunction in the brain, both with the potential to severely compromise a person’s health. Both conditions are challenging, frightening, painful, and require serious management and care.
Recognize everyone is going through something. You may be unaware of the difficulties people around you are dealing with; acknowledge and be sensitive to that. Treat others with empathy and respect. And if someone does disclose a mental or emotional hardship to you, don’t shrug off their situations or invalidate their feelings. This will only add to their trauma and might discourage them from seeking out help from others.
Own your story and don’t let others dictate how you feel about yourself. Seek out support if you’re working to understand what your body and mind might be experiencing. Understanding and embracing yourself first is essential. And be sure to lift others up when they share their stories, knowing that they’ve probably inspired others to do the same.
Mental health care is health care. Just as there is nothing wrong with visiting a primary care physician, there is nothing wrong with visiting a therapist or psychiatrist for treatment. In fact, treatment should be celebrated as a journey to holistic wellness. Caring for our minds should be as important if not more than caring for our bodies. Afterall, mental and physical health are linked, and the mind is in the driver seat communicating with our heart to pump and our lungs to breath. A balance is essential to our overall wellness. If you’re looking for other facets of wellness to focus on, SAMHSA has you covered with their 8 Dimensions of Wellness.
TV programming, Facebook posts, news articles - these are all mediums we encounter every day. Many media portrayals of mental illness are inaccurate or hurtful, and do not educate others about the realities of living with mental health issues. There are humans behind these platforms, and those humans may not be aware of the stigmatizing content they are sharing. Do not be afraid to speak out and encourage the authors, producers, and engagers to take a second look at their content and adjust the message they are spreading.
One member of the NAMI Facebook community said, “I fight stigma by not having stigma for myself—not hiding from this world in shame, but being a productive member of society. I volunteer at church, have friends, and I’m a peer mentor and a mom. I take my treatment seriously. I'm purpose driven and want to show others they can live a meaningful life even while battling [mental illness].”
Follow @NAMI on Facebook to be up to date with literature, current events, resources, and to connect with others.
We can end the stigma around mental illness and support one another through our personal battles. Stigma forces us to hide in plain sight and keeps us from getting the help we might need. Join the fight against stigma by signing the StigmaFree pledge here.