A history of mental illness can lead to a loss of driver’s license, inability to serve on a jury, run for office or potential loss of child custody. A majority of the public expresses unwillingness to work closely with people with mental illness. 60% of people believe mental illness makes people violent.
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About half of the people in the US have a diagnosable mental illness at some point in their life. Only half of those people will end up seeking treatment. A leading cause of this reservation to seek treatment is stigma.
Stigma causes shame, prejudice and hopelessness in over half the people dealing with mental illness. It is the largest obstacle to recovery according to Stop Stigma Sacramento.
Ending mental health stigma is a large focus because of its dire consequences. Devices used to limit Stigma are called Stigma and Discrimination Reduction or SDR. Many approaches have been tested and in 2013, Rand Health Quarterly did a review of their effectiveness. Some of the observed SDRs were training, education, media campaigns, contact with people with mental illness and combinations of multiple. Training yielded short term success in students, creating positive changes in attitudes towards mental illness, knowledge, and willingness to engage others afflicted with mental illness. Police training reduces use of force, unnecessary arrests and increased referrals to treatment institutions. In an interview with David Feldman, Stephen Henshaw, a psychology professor at UC Berkeley, said his solution for stigma is to simply talk about it. Talking openly about mental health decreases stigma by giving all parties involved a better understanding of the situation.
Some important tools for anyone to use in their everyday lives include:
Educate Yourself: Being more educated on the topic of health can decrease some of the stereotypes which surround mental health and can help spread the knowledge to others.
Spread Awareness: Anyone can take part in assisting the decrease in stigmatization of mental health by actively spreading awareness, increasing education and opening dialogue.
Be Conscious of Language: When talking about mental health and in ordinary conversation, be conscious of the language you use. According to Laura Greenstein of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, use first person language. A person is not schizophrenic or bipolar, “they experience bipolar disorder,” for example. Be cautious when talking about suicide. Limit use of descriptors like crazy, psychotic or insane. Do not cast out people who suffer from a mental illness as abnormal.
Mental illness is a serious matter so try not to use it in a joking manner or as a hyperbole.
Also remind others that their language matters when hearing something that may stigmatize mental health.
Be understanding: Believing people who open up to you about their feelings regarding mental health. Do not write anything off as an over exaggeration or attention seeking. Be understanding if a friend has to cancel last second due to a mental health concern or a coworker or subordinate needs to take a day off for mental health reasons. It is very important to understand that it is not something the person is in control of so we must act accordingly.
Be supportive: Supporting people suffering from mental health can be an essential component to recovery.
Be transparent about seeking treatment: Do not feel shame in saying, “I am going to a therapist.” Being open about seeking treatment can cause others to feel comfortable doing the same and can further the dialogue on mental health.
Be critical of media: The media can have negative impact on mental health stigma. Incorrect representation in content or emphasis on mental health in tragedies like school shooting increase the stigma around mental health.
Being a selective consumer or even writing a complaint to the appropriate people can help shift the media to doing more good than bad.
Media campaigns have led to a decrease in suicides in some European countries.
It is also very important to not harbor self-stigma. Self-stigma can cause people with mental health problems to internalize issues and creates a toxic self-view. This can diminish self-esteem and self-efficacy leading to more problems including refusal of treatment.
Mental health is everywhere. A large percentage of the population suffers from some mental illness. It is all of our responsibilities to do what we can to reduce mental health stigma and further the conversation about it.
Tripper is a Journalism major at Emerson College where he works on student publications and plays on the baseball team. He is from Connecticut and before going to Emerson was an Engineering student in Pittsburgh.