Stigma still surrounds mental illness, despite all the facts we know about it today. People still hesitate to talk about their mental health for fear of being labeled crazy or of being told they should just get over it because it is "all in their head". Many others avoid talking about mental health issues because they don’t want to be perceived as being weak or unable to cope.
Did you know that in America alone:
- 14 million people die of cancer every year,
- 25 million people have asthma,
- 29.1 million people develop diabetes,
- 53 million people have arthritis.
- 61.5 million people have a mental illness?
If mental illness is more common than diabetes or asthma, why are we still so afraid to discuss it?
There are many types of mental illness — depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and bipolar disorder, etc. Each of these are medically diagnosed conditions. They are not weaknesses. They are illnesses. We need to start viewing them as such.
It’s time to educate ourselves about how chemical imbalances in the brain affect mental health. When we begin to see mental illness as a disease of the brain — just like lung cancer is a disease of the lungs and arthritis is inflammation of the joints — maybe the stigma will disappear.
What Not To Say
Often people ignorantly say hurtful things without even realizing that they are feeding into the stigma surrounding mental illness and are possibly offending people. Here are a few examples of such harmful statements:
- “You’re so bipolar.” (To someone who simply changed moods.)
- “I almost had a panic attack.” (After someone scares you.)
- “What are you, OCD?” (When someone wants something done neatly.)
- “I’m so depressed because I didn’t get those new shoes.” (After a failed shopping trip.)
These kinds of flippant statements minimize the seriousness of the issue they are facing and stigmatize the illness. While people who say such things may not mean any harm, such statements can be interpreted as hurtful or offensive, especially when they are heard by people suffering from these illnesses.
You Don’t Need to be Ashamed
The idea behind the campaign #imnotashamed is to spread the message that mental health conditions are nothing to be ashamed of. They are neither a choice, a character flaw, or a weakness.
It is a positive step to share openly about your mental illness without shame and realize you are not alone. Check out what others are saying who are not ashamed! Add your voice to the conversation by tweeting your story with #imnotashamed.
Moving Beyond the Stigma
If you are struggling with a mental illness, here are some important steps for coping with and moving beyond the stigma:
Don’t let the fear of judgment keep you from getting treatment.
So many people facing mental illness are reluctant to admit they need help. Half of the teens and young adults who have a mental illness develop their condition by the age of 14. This can be a scary and confusing time,a period when you might start to fear your own mind. Please don’t let the fear of being labeled as someone who experiences mental illness prevent you from seeking help. Treatment can provide relief by identifying what’s wrong and reducing symptoms that interfere with your life. If you attempt to ignore the problem, it can take over your life.
Don’t believe the stigma yourself.
Sometimes you are your toughest critic. Stigma doesn’t just come from others. You may mistakenly believe that your condition is a sign of personal weakness or that you should be able to control it without help.
Don’t equate yourself with your illness.
You are not an illness. So instead of saying, “I’m bipolar,” say, “I have bipolar disorder.”
Find a support group and talk to someone. If you don’t have anyone to talk with, one of our free and confidential online mentors would love to support you during this time.
Don’t be afraid to open up. Being open can actually save your life and others’. Talking about your treatment and struggles can inspire someone else to get help and show them that they are not alone in their journey to recovery.
See the stigma for what it is — ignorance.
People who pass judgement and believe the stigma surrounding mental illness almost always lack understanding of the facts.
How to Help a Friend
If you know someone who has a mental illness, here’s how you can make a difference:
- Educate yourself about mental illness.
- Speak up when you hear someone say something offensive or untrue.
- Focus on the person, not the illness.
- Provide love, care, and encouragement to someone with a mental illness without judgment.
If you struggle with a mental illness, one of our free, confidential mentors would love to talk with you and support you. Just click “Connect” below.
Health statistics found at CDC.gov
This article was originally published on TheHopeLine®.
This article was written by: Dawson McAllisterPhoto Credit: morgan sarkissian