There is still a stigma surrounding mental illness, making people afraid of being labeled as crazy or being told they should just get over it. Many don’t want to be seen as weak or unable to cope.
- 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 is it that we are still so afraid to discuss it?
There are many types of mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and bipolar disorder, etc. Each of these are 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 determine mental illnesses. 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 go away.
What Not To Say
Often people ignorantly say hurtful things without even realizing that they are feeding into the stigma surrounding mental illness and possibly offending people who are struggling. Here are a few examples.
- “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 I didn’t get those new shoes.” After a failed shopping trip.
To people who are truly struggling with any one of these issues, these kinds of flippant statements devalue the seriousness of the issue they are facing and adds stigma to the illness. While you may not mean any harm, it may be interpreted as hurtful or offensive to others.
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 not a choice, character flaw, or a weakness.
It is a positive step to be able 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 when you 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.
- Speak Up. 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 have a lack of understanding rather than information based on 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 something offensive.
- See 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, we have free, confidential mentors who 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