Starting the Conversation to End Mental Health Stigmas
Starting the Conversation to End Mental Health Stigmas
Your neighbor, your teacher and even your best friend could be victims of mental illnesses.
Everyone knows someone who is affected by them. However, the stigma that exists in our society creates a negative and discriminatory world for those living with them all over the world.
Mental illness stigma is defined as “ a collection of adverse and unfair beliefs… [which] most often lead to inaccurate and hurtful objectifications of people as dangerous and incompetent individuals,” according to the non-profit organization Bring Change 2 Mind.
In other words, stigma discriminates people who suffer from mental illnesses, just like discrimination against women, people of different ethnicities and people of different sexualities. This impending isolation discourages people from getting the help they need.
For people who suffer from mental illness, stigma is toxic.
Mental illnesses such as manic depression, anxiety and schizophrenia affect approximately one in five adults, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health, making it a greater global burden than cancer and cardiovascular disease. Mental illness is clearly a global issue, but the subject is constantly avoided in casual conversation. Furthermore, there is extremely limited access to information on mental illness in third world countries. The problem is growing, but society does little to try to combat it.
According to a study of over 1,700 adults in the UK, reported by Psychology Today, the number one belief about people with mental illnesses is the belief that they are dangerous, most especially people suffering from schizophrenia and addiction. Participants also believe that many mental illnesses, such as addiction and eating disorders, are self-inflicted. Certain cultures also believe that mental illnesses are “evil” and “the work of the devil.”
These alarming interpretations create untrue perceptions of people who are suffering from mental illnesses.
Interestingly enough, we’ve gotten better at talking about mental illnesses, but not in a positive light.
Our society portrays mental illness in a miniscule manner, rather than helping individuals understand and discuss the effects of mental illnesses seriously. Terms, such as “depression” and “anxiety”, are loosely thrown around as if they are common nouns and adjectives. You can walk down any street and hear people saying they feel “depressed” after watching a sad movie. You can also hear people claiming to possess social anxiety around his or her crush. While these statements are not meant to offend anyone, they strip these terms of their medical meaning and confuse day-to-day problems with serious clinical disorders.
Dr. Stan Kutcher, an adolescent psychiatry expert posits that, “ The pendulum has swung from ‘let’s never talk about it and let’s never educate ourselves about it’ to ‘let’s everyone blab about it,” according to The Atlantic.
We have no problem trivializing mental illnesses, but the second someone brings up a serious disorder: we clam up.
Basically, this action of clamming up translates to “while it’s perfectly acceptable for me to equate my downcast feelings with a disorder, if you actually suffer from a disorder, you’re insane.”
We shove these people who are just like us into a padded box and stick a label on it that says, “DO NOT TOUCH.”
The stigma surrounding mental illnesses prevents people from seeking the help they need. It creates distance from friends and family, diminishes self-esteem and is a catalyst for bullying and harassment. Many health insurances also refrain from adequately covering mental health expenses. Those who suffer from mental illnesses purposely neglect the problems they are experiencing in order to run away from the labels: “mad”, “insane”, “crazy” and “unpredictable”.
It’s terrifying for someone to walk himself or herself into a clinic with the understanding that their peers will view and treat them differently.
The effects of these perceptions are disastrous. According to The Mental Health Recording, over 90% of people who die by suicide suffer from mental illnesses. Theses illnesses are often under-treated or not treated at all.
By ending the stigma we can save lives.
Numerous non-profit organizations across the globe have started the conversation. Bring Change 2 Mind and Active Minds work to educate children, adolescents and adults on mental illnesses. They also provide various resources to help end the stigma associated with mental illnesses. Other groups, such as To Write Love On Her Arms, urge people to share their stories in order to present hope and healing to those who are suffering. Music groups, including Nothing More, have also taken on the mission to start the conversation on mental illnesses.
The organization, Time to Change, has dedicated itself to ending the mental illness stigma and has gained the support of numerous celebrities. Davina McCall, Marcus Trescothic and Rebecca Front are some of the celebrities who have pledged to tell their stories and end the discrimination.
If you know someone who is suffering from a mental illness, reassure him or her that you recognize him or her for who he or she truly is. Encourage him or her to get help. Educate yourself and engage others in the conversation. Together, we can end the stigma. It’s time for us to end this stigma.
Let this world be stigma blind.
Talia Trackim is a high school student in a sleepy town in Pennsylvania. She is a passionate story-teller and believes that telling stories and communicating experiences is the key to changing the world, prompting her to fall in love with the spoken and written word.