This year marks 70 years since Mental Health America, health organizations and communities alike have observed Mental Health Awareness Month. Since 1949, Mental Health America has been sharing the importance of caring about our mental health with tool kits and resources and encouraging everyone to jump on board.
This year’s theme is #4Mind4Body, promoting the balance of mental and physical health. In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, Be Well Victoria has been focusing on Breaking the Stigma against Mental Illness. It is important for our community to recognize that there is a stigma against mental health and we have to start talking about it in order to break it.
Stigma is a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality or person. Far too often, we as a society place a mark of disgrace on those who suffer from mental illness. We place a mark of disgrace on the quality of life people live. We place of mark of disgrace on physical beings if they show any sign of abnormality. We stigmatize anything less-than. Society labels people as crazy, associates mental illness with poverty and homelessness and assumes that everyday people can’t suffer from mental illness. This is far from the truth. No person is perfect, and mental illness is common. But how do we bring this to light?
- Educate yourself and others
Mental illness presents itself in many forms. Some of the most common mental disorders include anxiety disorders, depressive disorders, substance use disorders, bipolar, eating disorders and schizophrenia. These disorders can affect thinking processes, emotional state and behavior. They disrupt the person’s ability to work or carry out other daily activities and engage in satisfying personal relationships. Classes like Mental Health First Aid can help teach you to identify mental illness and symptoms and react in a crisis situation.
- Be conscious of the language you use
Words are important, and the way we use them matters. When describing someone with a condition, avoid using nicknames for mental disorders like ‘pyshco’ or ‘schizo’ and instead name the diagnosis someone has. For example, use phrases like ‘a person who has experienced psychosis’ or ‘a person who has schizophrenia’ instead. Stray away from terms like ‘crazy,’ ‘lunatic’ and ‘mad.’ Don’t refer to mental illness medications as ‘happy pills.’ Be aware that some of this language can be stigmatizing or offensive to people with lived experience with mental illness.
- Encourage equal treatment of physical and mental illnesses
It is important to recognize mental illness as just that – an illness: a disease or period of sickness affecting the body or mind. We have no problem understanding diabetes or cancer as illnesses because the effects are visible to the eye. Knowing the signs and symptoms of mental illness will help to better identify behaviors of mental illness, making the connection between physical and mental illnesses.
- Talk openly
Talk openly to friends and family about the things going on in your life, both good and bad. Provide safe places to share. Let people know that it is OK not to be OK. Listen without judgment and provide positive feedback if it is warranted.
- Let others know when they are being stigmatizing
Once you have educated yourself on stigmatizing language, make others aware of when they are using it and how hurtful it can be to those with lived experience of mental illness.
- Show compassion
Show compassion to those with mental illness and their situations by just being there for someone in need. Check up on individuals you suspect may be going through a difficult time and be sure they know they aren’t alone.
- Empower; don’t shame
Find ways to empower people instead of shaming them. Remind friends and loved ones that they are not their diagnosis and recovery is possible. Help them find resources and seek the help they need.
- Be honest
Everyone has a story; are you being honest about yours with others? With yourself? Breaking the stigma is all about honesty, and it starts with you.
- Don’t harbor stigma
Practice what you preach. Be aware of your own biases and stigmatization toward mental illness and find positive ways to address them.
Mental Health America: mentalhealthamerica.net/may
National Alliance on Mental Illness: nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/October-2015/9-Ways-to-Fight-Mental-Health-Stigma
Mental Health First Aid USA First Edition (Revised), Adult
Time To Change Lets End Mental Health Discrimination: time-to-change.org.uk/media-centre/responsible-reporting/mind-your-language
Power of Positivity: powerofpositivity.com/show-compassion-mental- illness/