As I thought about what to write on this week (I have some good posts coming up, so stay tuned!), one thing I kept coming back to was the work I’ve been doing as a Mental Health Advocate. When you’re in a space where people are so open to hearing your own mental health experience and sharing their own, it can make you think that there still isn’t a major stigma out there surrounding mental health. But there is, and in the past few weeks I’ve been reminded of why it’s important to always challenge that stigma wherever we see it.
It shouldn’t be a shock to anyone that over the past few months, I’ve largely stayed inside and away from most people, and because of that I’ll often go days (sometimes weeks) without in-human interactions with more than one or two people. It’s good for me to be safe, but sometimes that can also create echo chambers of information. And while I’m fine with that in most ways, one of the more disappointing echo chambers was being in a space where I thought that everyone was starting to respect mental illness and mental health issues. Because you know what? It makes it even more frustrating to be reminded of how false that it is certain spaces.
I’ve written about the stigma of mental health before, but this post feels different to me now. I think it’s because order to make change in those spaces, we have to change people’s perception of mental health. One of the most important things in that process is by admitting that mental health is seen by many as something to be afraid of, something that can’t be brought up. Once it’s mentioned, people view you in a certain light, and it’s not usually in a positive way. But once people change their perception of what it means to live with mental health issues, things change. Instead of respecting you less for sharing your struggle, they’ll actually respect you more. Instead of caring less, they’ll want to be more proactive in making sure you know they care.
The work to change that perception is constant, and it can pop up in any and every interaction you have. There are many ways you can approach that work. One way is to do research – researching ways that people perpetuate the stigma, use problematic language, or are disrespectful of other people’s mental illnesses. That’s my favorite way to do this work, but I’d also say that I feel more comfortable in that work because I’ve been in the space for awhile. If you or people you know are trying to start this change, knowing what language is harmful and making sure you don’t use that language is a good first step. Obviously it’s also important to understand why, but by limiting that harmful language we can begin to build a world without fear and stigma surrounding mental health.
I’m hoping on Thursday I can provide some resources for folx who want to get into that work but make no mistake – it’s a lifelong journey, and we have to work constantly to make sure that stigma goes away so that all of us can feel free to discuss mental health in a positive way.