Aiming to cure the stigma around mental health
There’s a virus spreading across America. It harms the one in five Americans affected by mental health conditions. It shames them into silence. It prevents them from seeking help. And in some cases, it takes lives. What virus are we talking about?
It’s stigma. Stigma against people with mental health conditions. But there’s good news. Stigma is 100 percent curable. Compassion, empathy and understanding are the antidote.
Mental illness affects everyone directly or indirectly through family, friends or coworkers. Despite mental illnesses’ reach and prevalence, stigma and misunderstanding are also, unfortunately, widespread.
Mental illness does not make you weak – A large part of the stigma is the perception that mental illness is a sign of weakness, that the person struggling just doesn’t have the capacity or ability to ‘fix’ it themselves. It is vital to remember that just like a physical illness, mental illness takes time and attention to identify and treat.
It comes in all shapes and sizes – Mental illness and its methods of treatment is not one-size-fits all, rather it is very individualized. Everyone’s journey is different, but what is most important is to provide support and encouragement along the way.
Physical and mental health are equals – While physical health is typically easier to see and treat, it does not make mental health less important. Oftentimes, our physical health is tightly knit to our mental health. If we find ourselves in a bout of sadness, we can become more likely to contract a cold or other infection because our immune system will weaken. Likewise, if we don’t take care of our physical bodies, it can take a toll on our mental health. It is important to remember that both our physical selves and emotional selves are closely related.
With these important ideas to keep in mind, here are three active ways the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) suggest you can do to help end the stigma:
Talk openly about mental health – Mental health is still seen as a somewhat taboo topic. The more it becomes a norm of conversation, the more people will learn and grow to have a positive view on mental health.
Show compassion to those with mental illness – If you know someone who has a mental illness, take an interest in what they are dealing with and make a point to listen to them and offer support. If you have a mental illness, make sure to surround yourself with caring, supporting people that you can trust and turn to.
Educate yourself and others – If someone you know has been diagnosed with a mental illness, take time to research and learn more about it. This way, you can be more knowledgeable of what they’re going through and also educate others who may be forwarding the stigma.
As we near the end of October and come closer to the new year, let’s make 2019 the year where mental health is seen in a new light. If we all take even just these small steps, this current stigma can be cured.
To find out if stigma is something you may have, visit curestigma.org and take their short stigma test. Anyone who experiences symptoms of mental illness should see a doctor to discuss and be checked for possibly related physical conditions. The next step might be referral to mental health specialist. Many treatment options exist.
Susan Kozak has been a licensed social worker for the past 31 years and currently serves as the executive director of Community Care Services, a position she has held since 2011.