7 Ways to Fight Mental Health Stigma
- Category: Mental Health
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May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a time to provide support to those with mental health issues, educate the public on the importance of mental health care, advocate for policies that support mental health, and possibly most importantly, fight the undeserved stigma often associated with mental illnesses.
Millions of people will experience some type of mental health issue at one point in their lives. Unfortunately, the stigma associated with seeking mental health care often causes people to feel ashamed and prevents them from receiving the help they need. This only adds to the weight of the pain caused by untreated mental disorders and may make those living with one feel increasingly alone and helpless.
What is Mental Health Stigma?
Mental health stigma is a negative attitude toward those living with a mental illness or mental health issue. These attitudes are pervasive in society and often internalized by those dealing with mental health issues themselves.
Mental health stigma is perpetuated by various behaviors, including:
- Name calling and mockery
- The misrepresentation of individuals with mental illness as overly violent, aggressive, or incompetent
- Avoidance of those with a mental health issue
There are many ways to improve the way we think and talk about mental health, resulting in more-positive outcomes for those living with mental health issues and inspiring more people to seek effective treatment.
- Talk Openly About Mental Health
Shedding the shame and openly sharing your experiences with mental health is the first step to advocate for acceptance. Even if you don’t have firsthand experience with a mental illness, advocate for others by publically discussing the importance of accessible and affordable mental health care and denouncing the negative, harmful stereotypes unfairly associated with mental illnesses. Normalizing mental illness starts with having conversations and not treating our mental health like a dirty secret.
- Be Compassionate
When you act compassionately toward those living with a mental health issue, you show them that you are making an effort to understand and help them as an ally and supporter. Being compassionate can include providing a nonjudgmental ear to listen, offering to help with daily tasks that may be difficult, and assisting in finding resources or treatment. Even just letting someone know that you’re available if they want someone to talk to can positively affect their mental health.
- Use Sensitive Language
Words have power – be conscious of your language and ensure you are not using antiquated or offensive terms when referring to mental illness or those living with one, such as “crazy,” “disturbed,” or “psycho.” Also, referring to people living with a mental illness as “victims” or “sufferers” can carry a negative connotation and imply that they cannot live a happy and fulfilling life with a mental illness. Many people live normal lives with a mental illness and don’t necessarily view it as a shortcoming or handicap.
- Speak Up Against Stereotypes
An important part of enacting change is being proactive about supporting a positive image for mental health disorders. If you witness someone being judgmental or perpetuating a negative stereotype, don’t be afraid to say something. If you see a harmful portrayal of mental illness in the media, contact the program or broadcaster to let your feelings be known.
- Research and Educate
Acceptance starts with knowledge. Negative judgment from others is often due to a lack of understanding of mental health rather than factual information. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) is a great resource for research and learning more about the facts surrounding mental health. Helping to educate others about the reality of mental health treatment and how common mental illnesses really are can make a drastic difference in how people living with a mental illness are perceived.
- Be Mindful of Self-Stigma
If you are living with a mental health disorder, pay attention to how view yourself. If you find that you are constantly judging and harshly criticizing yourself, these negative thoughts will take root in your mind and enforce harmful feelings about yourself and mental illness. These types of thoughts and opinions can become difficult to change and will negatively influence your treatment and recovery. Combat the urge to self-stigmatize by using positive affirmations to focus on good thoughts and change your problematic thought patterns.
- Don’t Be Ashamed to Seek Treatment
If you are reluctant to admit you need treatment for a mental health issue, it’s important to remember that there is no shame in seeking help. Mental health treatment can provide relief, help you identify core issues, and reduce the symptoms that may interfere with your life. One-on-one counseling, support groups, and medication can all be effective forms of treatment to alleviate symptoms of mental illnesses and improve quality of life for those living with one.
We offer several treatment modalities at Christian Health, where clients of all ages can receive exceptional, compassionate care in inpatient and outpatient treatment centers, for a variety of mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, addiction, grief, and posttraumatic stress. If you are interested in learning more about the available mental health services provided at Christian Health, please call our LiveWell Counseling center at (201) 848-5800.