5 Ways to Fight Mental Health Stigma
In recent years, we’ve taken many positive strides towards normalizing mental illness, but there is still a long way to go. Those struggling with mental illness must not only combat their disease, but also negative stigmas, which often exist because of a lack of compassion, education and understanding of mental health.
Reducing stigmas doesn’t happen overnight and is not the work of one person. However, if everyone takes some small steps, we will continue to move forward. Here are some things you can do to help end negative stigmas.
- Educate yourself: We often fear what we don’t understand, but luckily, being in the information age means we have all the tools we need to better understand mental health struggles. Take the time to read some vetted sources and talk to those around you who may suffer from a mental illness. Ask questions in a considerate way to gain a better understanding of what a mental illness really is and how it can affect someone. Consider starting with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (https://www.nami.org/Home) or the National Institute of Mental Health (https://www.nimh.nih.gov/). You can also do an online search for organizations that are active in your area. Learning more might help you to be able to help others do the same.
- Share your story: If you are someone who has a mental illness, and you’re comfortable doing so, share your own story and the struggles that you face. The more light that is shed on this topic, the sooner that the stigma will stop. Your story may allow others who suffer from a mental illness not to feel so isolated and alone. If you yourself don’t have a mental illness, but you know someone who does, take the time to listen to them and their story. Show that you’re willing to listen and that you want to understand.
- Be conscious of your word choice: Words have power, and sometimes can hurt others even when it isn’t our intention. While we may use terms like “crazy” or “psycho” without much thought, someone with mental illness might hear them and be hurt. . Set your intention to avoid words that reinforce a stereotype and select words that indicate your empathy and support. Consider the difference in calling someone “crazy” versus saying that he or she “is struggling, but working hard.” This simple swap can have big impacts.
- Become a mental health advocate: Advocacy takes many shapes! If you’ve found local organizations, look for ways that you can engage and help. If you’ve got a strong online presence, use it to share positive memes or events. Make sure those in your life that struggle with mental health know you are open and willing to listen. Any steps, big or small, can help build a world with less stigma.
- Show empathy and compassion: Having a mental illness is no different than having a physical illness, so remember to show the same level of care and compassion.
Unfortunately, because of the stigma around mental health, people suffering often hear unhelpful advice or responses that minimizes their condition. If you don’t suffer from a mental illness, put yourself in the shoes of someone who does so that you can learn to be more empathetic and understanding. Most of all, treat others as you yourself would want to be treated.
Complete change will not happen overnight, but these are just a few positive steps we can take toward eliminating mental health stigma and showing those with mental illnesses that there is hope for a better future.
If you suffer from a mental illness, know that you are not alone and that you are not defined by the illness you suffer from. Hope is on the horizon.
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