5 Ways to Break the Stigma Around Mental Illness

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With 1 in 5 adults in the United States having experienced mental illness, and one-half of all chronic mental illnesses beginning by age 14, it’s critical that support and education take the place of judgment.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month and was established in 1949 to increase awareness of the importance of mental health and wellness. Here are five ways you can help reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness.

1. Start a conversation about mental health.

Mental illness knows no bounds. It’s a disease that does not discriminate. An important step in ending the stigma surrounding mental illness is to openly talk about it. Talking about symptoms, warning signs, and treatments can be beneficial not just for those experiencing mental illness, but also for those who do not, such as families and caregivers. Talking openly and sharing will help normalize mental health and mental conditions.

2. Educate yourself and others.

Many of the stigmas surrounding mental health and mental illness stem from misinformation. One of the best ways to break the stigma is to educate yourself on how it can affect a person mentally, physically, and emotionally. Then, help spread the word by sharing what you’ve learned with others. The National Alliance on Mental Illness has a wealth of resources to explore.

3. Be aware of the language you use.

What we say matters, especially the way we speak about mental illness. Avoid using words and phrases like “crazy” and “psycho.” Also, always address the person first, not the illness. It is important that people are seen first as people and not as their mental health condition. “She is a person with schizophrenia” rather than “she’s a schizophrenic.” Using person-centered language is a good rule to follow.

4. Build the bridge between mental and physical health.

When you experience a physical health problem, you are immediately encouraged to get it checked out. Why should mental health be any different? The mind and body are not separate, even though they tend to be treated that way. So much of what we do physically impacts us mentally and vice versa. The connection is real and it’s important to recognize them as equals. 

5. Choose compassion and empowerment.

Provide support to those with mental health conditions in the same manner you would if they had a physical illness. Saying nothing and staying silent endorses the stigma, so speak up and let others know when their behavior or words stigmatize mental health. If you have experienced mental illness, you might choose to reframe your experiences as empowering, as difficult as it may be. Living in shame won’t help to fight the stigma, but improving your self-perception and feelings of self-worth will. You deserve to tell your own story.

If you’re interested in learning more about mental health and ways you can help break the stigma against it, check out these resources: