One of the most important parts of Mental Health Awareness Month is working to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness. With 1 in 5 adults in the United States living with a mental illness, and half of all chronic mental illnesses beginning by age 14, it’s important we offer support and guidance in place of judgement and negativity.* If you or a loved one are living with a mental illness, take a look at five ways in which you can help fight both external and internal stigmas:
Talk openly about mental health.
An important step in ending the stigma surrounding mental illness is openly talking about it. Those living with mental illness shouldn’t be shamed into silence, especially when mental illnesses are so prevalent. Talking about things like symptoms, warning signs, and treatments can be beneficial to not just those who don’t experience mental illness, but also to those who do. Sharing your experience will help normalize mental health and mental conditions.
Educate yourself and those around you.
Many stigmas surrounding mental health and mental illness often stem from misinformation. One of the best ways to fight, and end, the stigma is to simply educate yourself and anyone else who may be misinformed. There are plenty of resources that provide detailed infographics that break down the impact and prevalence of mental illnesses.
Be conscious of your language.
The way you speak about mental illness is important. Using words and phrases like ‘crazy’ and ‘mentally ill’ can be extremely harmful and further deepen discrimination against those who live with a mental illness. It’s also demeaning to use a person’s mental illness as an adjective to describe them, such as ‘she’s bipolar’ or ‘he’s schizophrenic.’ They are more than their mental illness and should be treated as such, which is why using person-centered language is a good rule of thumb to follow.
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 your mental health be any different? When we put physical and mental health up against each other, we insinuate that one is more important than the other. Your mental and physical health are more connected than you think and should be treated, and spoken about, in an equal manner.
Overcome shame by choosing empowerment.
It’s easy to let society dictate how you view yourself, especially when it feels like no one really understands what you’re going through. As difficult as it may be, choosing to empower yourself instead of living in shame will not only help fight against the stigma, but also improve your self-perception and feelings of self-worth. You deserve to tell your own story. And own it.
If you’re interested in learning more about the stigma surrounding mental illness and how you can help fight against it, check out these resources:
* Information provided by The National Alliance on Mental Illness