How to Fight the Mental Health Stigma

I have battled mental health issues for more than six years and, for just as long, I have been battling the stigma of mental health. There are plenty of reasons as to why the stigma surrounding mental health continues to exist, but its results are usually the same. People are given an inaccurate picture of what mental illness looks like and, based on this depiction, they treat people with mental illness a certain way. This leads potentially making people feel ashamed of their struggles, and not seeking help for those struggles.

While progress has been made, the stigma surrounding mental health persists in our world today (which I wrote about on the blog last week). But there are several things you can do to lessen the stigma surrounding mental health. While not all of them are easy, any action taken toward shrinking the stigma goes a long way not only for that person but for any of us who are struggling with our mental health. Here are some things to try to lessen the mental health stigma:

Be Open and Honest

When someone asks you how you’re doing, it’s natural to say that we’re ‘fine.’ But if you’re with someone that knows you well and you feel comfortable around, it might not hurt to tell them how you’re really doing. People are afraid of the unknown, but when you thrust mental health into everyday conversation, it becomes easier for people to accept in time.

Word Choice is Important

Labels – and knowing the right labels – are important when it comes to mental health. Your friend being sad for a few hours doesn’t mean they have depression. I’ve heard people get called bipolar all the time if they act even remotely out of the ordinary. And of course, there’s the constant labeling of the mentally ill as ‘crazy’ – a misspoken phrase that unfortunately is quite common. Once you pay attention to the words you use, you can begin to recognize when people around you use language that’s hurtful to the mentally ill.

Mental Health is Equal to Physical Health

This is something that I personally try to encourage as much as possible – that mental health is just as important as physical health. Mental illness is a disease just like all the other physical diseases out there, it’s just harder to see. Once people around me understood that I live with a disease, it was easier for them to accept why I sometimes couldn’t come to parties or hang out with them.

It’s All Relative

Mental health is not a one-size-fits-all type of thing. People are all on different journeys and in different places with their mental health, and what works for one person may not work for another. Recognizing that we’re all individuals with our own stories might seem like common sense, but mental health is something that’s often put into a box because of the lack of awareness or education. Don’t be afraid to tell your story and let people know that it’s just that – your story.

These are just a few of the many ways we can work to shrink the stigma. It’s hard to know what will work best in a given situation but one thing is certain – that stigma won’t go away if we don’t try to get rid of it!

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Is Mental Health Still Stigmatized?

I have a short answer and a long answer to the question above. The short answer? Yes, it is. The long answer? Give me a second.

When I ask questions in my posts, I often turn to Google to gauge how legitimate my question is. This time, though, I looked for something more specific – the dates of the results on the search page. I knew there would be articles, posts and web pages asking my same question, but I wanted to know if they were old or new. And what I found was that there was a mix of both. I’d see a study from 2012 next to a blog post from 2015 all jammed between two articles from May 2019. What did that show me? That this question is an ongoing discussion about how we deal with mental health in the United States.

The long answer to this question: while it is still stigmatized, it seems like that stigma isn’t as strong as it once was. That’s what I feel comfortable saying.

That answer doesn’t sound long, does it? Look at what I wrote though. The stigma isn’t as strong as it once was. What I’m saying is that I believe it’s not as bad as things used to be. Usually, that would imply that things are good in the present. But the argument that things are better than before is a dangerous argument to make (see: most of History). Will taking that approach with mental health help in the long run?

I’m encouraged at the number of celebrities who are being more open about their mental health. I feel proud when I see a professional athlete say they’ve gone through tough periods of depression or anxiety because I was an athlete growing up; I understand how brave you have to be to do that. I know these stories help other people who struggle with their own mental health and that’s wonderful (I can’t emphasize that enough. It’s truly wonderful). But we also have to acknowledge that if there wasn’t such a strong stigma, a famous person talking about mental health wouldn’t be so groundbreaking in a country where 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness every year. And yet, it is.

Has the stigma surrounding mental health decreased? Sure, you could say that. But if you do, look at where it used to be. That might reframe how you answer the question. And honestly, there’s plenty of ways to discuss/debate this topic. Is the stigma decreasing? Are people being more open about mental health? How can we reduce the stigma, or just overcome it?

All are valid questions, but there’s a reason I asked the question the way I did – I wanted you to react. When you read that question, you had an instant reaction. It might have been yes, no or somewhere in between, but you thought something. A key way to break down a stigma – any stigma – is to talk openly about it. So we need people to think about it and talk about it. Whether they think they’re right or wrong, opinionated or not. Because as long as mental health is stigmatized, there’s still work to do.

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