According to the World Health Organization, approximately one in four people all over the world suffer from some form of mental illness at some point in their lives. While this number seems shocking, only a handful of those people get the necessary treatment. Ever wondered why? One of the biggest reasons is the stigma associated with mental health. Mental health conditions are regarded as something that you should be ashamed of, when the fact is: it is not even in your control. Here are some of the ways in which you can fight to break the stigma related to mental health.
Talk about mental health openly
Whispering about mental health conditions and talking in a hush-hush manner gives the idea that you are talking about a shameful or embarrassing topic. Nothing about mental health should be humiliating, so do not be afraid to talk about it openly. It is the need of the hour, right now, with depression rates never as high as they are today. For example, depression in teenagers has increased by 70 percent in the course of 25 years in the UK. If these numbers are to be believed, it is about time that people started taking mental wellbeing more seriously.
Learn more about mental health
Do not let your ignorance form, or perpetuate the stereotypes about mental health conditions. Even if you do not suffer from any, chances are, someone you know is silently suffering. Therefore, it becomes vital that you educate yourself about the reality of mental health issues. You may be able to help your loved one just by getting them to treatment they desperately need to live a more fulfilling life.
Pay close attention to the words you use
Have you ever heard the old adage, “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never harm me”? We now know that this sing-song thought, though brave, is not accurate. One study found that, while positive words do help improve your cognitive functioning, negative words bring on stress and shut down the logical and reasoning areas of your brain! Therefore, it is extremely important that you choose your words carefully while talking about mental health conditions, or to those so afflicted. Do not use derogatory terms such as ‘psycho’, ‘retarded’, ‘crazy’, or ‘cuckoo’ whenever you are referring to any person with a mental health disorder. Your use of words aimed to hurt, can significantly increase damage to others who are in a fragile state of mind.
Be empathetic toward people suffering from mental health conditions
Even though you cannot see it, it doesn’t mean that people with mental health issues aren’t in pain. They may use a variety of different ways to deal with their pain with substance abuse, such as alcohol and drugs, or they may hurt themselves physically by cutting themselves or taking wild chances. It is difficult for us to be able to understand exactly what others are going through. Perhaps, we should simply remember to be compassionate and empathetic to our fellow human beings.
Stop labeling people
Just like you wouldn’t refer to someone suffering from cancer as the cancer girl, naming others with mental, or behavioral health conditions with terms like the depressed girl or that bipolar dude, is hurtful and can be very destructive. Even though labelling is a tool used by our brain to categorize things we don’t understand, using labels to describe a person in a derogatory way actually changes the way they are perceived as an individual by others, and may severely affect the way they begin to internalize those messages.
Remember, the person is not the disease nor the disorder. Any one of us may find ourselves at some point, suffering from the pain and aloneness that walks hand in hand with mental illness. We are all just human beings, who at one time or another, may experience any of those same difficulties, worries, or illnesses. It’s important to never forget that.
The stigma we’ve created, and has become associated with mental health, is not something that will go away easily. Educating each other and our communities, and working together, are the keys to combating the mental and behavioral health stigma.
Jennifer McGregor - Pre-med student
Co-creator of PublicHealthLibrary.org