Six Ways to Reduce the Stigma Surrounding Mental Illness

from The Huffington Post via Edward Honaker

Today is Wednesday, January 25th, 2017.

Today is also Bell Let’s Talk day across Canada. As someone who has actively participated over the past few years, I feel it is time to organize and write some of my thoughts today.

Here are six things I’ve identified in my experiences that can help to shrink the stigma surrounding mental illness:

1. Language

This is likely a staple amongst much of the information you will read regarding mental illness stigma reduction.

It is true that we should all be cognizant of the words and phrases that we use, and understand the connotations associated with them. Words like “crazy”, “insane” and/or “psycho”, and phrases like “he/she/they is/are so borderline” and/or “he/she/they is/are so bipolar” are things that are heard far too often. These word choices cause people with mental illnesses to feel labeled or even alienated. It becomes worse when they believe these words actually represent who they are. Such words have a strong negative connotation associated with them. Imagine if someone (whether intentionally or not) used that language to describe the entire image of who you are.

Do note that I used the phrase “people with mental illnesses” earlier.

The reason why I use this phrase is because the person always comes before the illness. No one should ever be defined by it. This is more appropriate language to use. Let’s continue to work on eliminating the use of negative language, and looking at people for who they are first and foremost.

“You are not your illness. You have an individual story to tell. You have a name, a history, a personality. Staying yourself is part of the battle.” — Julian Seifter

2. Media

It doesn’t serve us well when the media serves up these negative representations of mental illnesses. Take the recent movie “Split” for example, which sensationalizes an illness in order to gain viewership. The audience is prompted to fear a man because he possesses a severe form of dissociative identity disorder. Even worse, his illness is one of the main driving forces of the overall story.

Whenever these psychological horror films are released, I am highly disappointed because of the message they choose to portray. In fact, I was not the only one to feel this way as the Australian mental health organization SANE shares similar sentiments.

Please do not support these projects, as they bring us far too many steps back in our reduction of mental illness stigmatization.

“We know that mental illness is not something that happens to other people. It touches us all. Why then is mental illness met with so much misunderstanding and fear?” — Tipper Gore

3. Statistical Presentation

Statistics are facts.

Facts are informative.

How do we view these facts though?

Bell Let’s Talk reports that 1/5 Canadians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. I think it’s important to question what the other 4/5 people experience. Are they what we socially perpetuate as “normal”?

Highly unlikely.

While it is important to assess and understand that approximately 20% of Canadians will experience a mental illness, I believe there is value in this statistic:

100% of people will experience a period (whether short or long) of being mentally unwell in their lifetime.

It is time to acknowledge and start talking about this fact.

“Unfortunately, mental health is so misunderstood that some people think you have to be crazy to need to speak to a therapist.” — Nicole Curtis

4. Definitions

Mental illness is not defined simply. It does not look like one specific thing. We need to shed more light on certain illnesses that are common and not brought to attention. Yes, it is great to identify the issues and discuss therapies for bipolar disorder, but we should also have talks about something like high-functioning depression or anxiety at the same magnitude.

Mental illnesses should not be defined as “weak” either. It is ok to not be ok.

We all have varying levels of wellness in terms of our mental health, but none of us are perfect. Let’s acknowledge this, as it could definitely help us in viewing certain mental illnesses as less taboo, and help us to discuss/understand them in greater depth.

“It’s ok to be you. You don’t have to try to be anybody else. Whatever you are, however you are, it’s fine. Nobody’s perfect.” — Priyanka Chopra

5. Don’t rely on just the medicine. Don’t rely on just the prayer. Be there.

I believe in the power of science to heal. I believe in the power of God to heal. I also believe in the power each of us holds to heal each other.

The idea of community is powerful.

We cannot rely on just antidepressants, therapy, and even prayer to heal a person with a mental illness(es). Telling someone to simply take meds, or that we will pray for them, are not a sufficient acts on their own. We need to be present and devoted to supporting people with mental illnesses. This needs to happen so they can gain the confidence to seek out the professional help they require.

“Just being there for someone can sometimes bring hope when all seems hopeless.” — Dave G. Llewellyn

6. Advocate to end the stigma everyday.

Mental illness stigmas will still be present tomorrow, in spite of everything that we do today. That does not mean that we have not taken steps to reduce it though. Continue to open the conversation surrounding mental health wellness and mental illnesses.

Right now and for life.