Stop the Stigma of Mental Illness

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Mental Health Happy Hour Support Group

May 2018 Topic: how we can reduce and eliminate all the stigmas of mental health in our society; whether it is based on how people talk about mental diagnoses, shame, guilt, why it is difficult for people to grasp the importance of therapy, and etc. Stigma is killing our communities!!

Stigma and Discrimination

Stigma is the rejection, avoidance or fear people direct toward those they perceive as being "different." Stigma becomes discrimination when it deprives people of their civil rights, access to fair housing, employment opportunities, education and full participation in life. According to a landmark 1999 United States Surgeon General report, stigma is "the most formidable obstacle to future progress in the arena of mental illness and health."

Stigma comes from other people, from institutions and even from self-imposed shame. Individually, each source of stigma represents a major barrier. Collectively, they can be profoundly damaging and difficult to overcome. Stigma can shatter hopes of recovery and social inclusion, leaving the person feeling devastated and isolated.

Nearly half of the adults in a national survey said they were unwilling to socialize with, work with, or live near someone with a mental illness. People living with mental illness often say the stigma and discrimination associated with their illness can be worse than the mental illness itself.

The truth is, numerous people living with mental illness go about their everyday lives and successfully fulfill their roles at work, home and in their community. Unless self-disclosed, no one would know that a neighbor, co-worker, supervisor or chief executive officer has a diagnosable mental illness.  Mental illness does not discriminate. But sometimes people do.

Stigma and discrimination against those living with mental illness is widespread and reaches into schools and institutions of learning, employment, housing, health care and media. It causes shame, prejudice and hopelessness and inhibits over half of those living with mental illness from seeking treatment. This creates serious personal and societal consequences. When shame is removed from the equation, people with mental illness will more readily seek treatment, achieve recovery and engage in meaningful activities.

Stigma is the largest obstacle to recovery, treatment and societal acceptance for people living with mental illness. Stigma and discrimination was a major theme during Sacramento County's Mental Health Services Act (MHSA) community planning process from 2005-2011. The goal is to fundamentally change negative attitudes and perceptions about mental illness and demonstrate that people living with mental illness are everyday people leading meaningful lives.

The anti-stigma and discrimination project ultimately seeks to eliminate the barriers to achieving full inclusion in society and increase access to mental health resources to support individuals and families. All of us can make a difference by making a commitment to end stigma and discrimination.

How can we reduce the stigma of mental illness?

  1. Know the facts. Educate yourself about mental health problems.
  2. Be aware of your attitudes and behavior. We've all grown up with prejudices and judgmental thinking. But we can change the way we think! See people as unique human beings, not as labels or stereotypes. See the person beyond their mental illness; they have many other personal attributes that do not disappear just because they also have a mental illness.
  3. Choose your words carefully. The way we speak can affect the way other people think and speak. Don’t use hurtful or derogatory language.
  4. Educate others. Find opportunities to pass on facts and positive attitudes about people with mental health problems. If your friends, family, co-workers or even the media present information that is not true, challenge their myths and stereotypes. Let them know how their negative words and incorrect descriptions affect people with mental health problems by keeping alive the false ideas.
  5. Focus on the positive. People with mental health and substance use problems make valuable contributions to society. Their health problems are just one part of who they are. We’ve all heard the negative stories. Let’s recognize and applaud the positive ones.
  6. Support people. Treat people who have mental health problems with dignity and respect. Think about how you’d like others to act toward you if you were in the same situation. If you have family members, friends or co-workers with substance use or mental health problems, support their choices and encourage their efforts to get well.
  7. Include everyone. Denying people access to things such as jobs, housing and health care, which the rest of us take for granted, violates human rights. People with mental health and substance use problems have a right to take an equal part in society.

Here are some ways you can deal with stigma:

  1. Get treatment. You may be reluctant to admit you need treatment.
  2. Don't let stigma create self-doubt and shame.
  3. Don't isolate yourself.
  4. Don't equate yourself with your illness.
  5. Join a support group.
  6. Get help at school.
  7. Speak out against stigma

How You Can Stop Mental Illness Stigma

Some people believe that focusing on fighting stigma is a worthless cause. They wonder why NAMI pushes our StigmaFree campaign so much. Why does being StigmaFree matter? What difference does it really make?

Because of stigma, those who experience mental illness are often labeled and seen as their condition—and nothing more. They are often:

  • Held responsible for their conditions.
  • Expected to change their thoughts and behaviors.
  • Avoided, isolated and ostracized.
  • Viewed as unpredictable, erratic and sometimes dangerous.
  • Considered incapable or unable to make rational decisions.

Living with a mental health condition is already challenging, and the added burden of stigma leads to tragic outcomes. According to the CDC, more than 41,000 individuals take their own life each year. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death among adults in the U.S. and the 3rd leading cause of death among people aged 10-24. We need to step up to fight stigma and prevent suicide.

So, you see, StigmaFree is not just some marketing campaign—it’s an individual’s all-encompassing approach to mental illness. When you are StigmaFree, you are:

Open to Conversations About Mental Health

To reduce mental illness-related stigma, we need to feel comfortable having conversations about it. It used to be that cancer was “taboo” to talk about, but through open and honest conversations, cancer became de-stigmatized. The more we talk about mental health conditions, the more normalized it becomes. Starting the conversation is the first step.

Respectful with Language

Words are powerful—they can both heal and harm. We need to watch our words when talking about mental illness:

Use person-first language. A person is not defined by a condition, and someone should not be addressed as such. A person experiences bipolar disorder—he’s not bipolar. A person experiences mental illness—she doesn’t belong to a group called “the mentally ill.”

Be cautious when talking about suicide. Suicide is a sensitive topic and should be talked about in a way that is respectful to the person and their loved ones. A person is “lost to suicide” or “died by suicide” rather than “committed suicide.” If a person tries to take their life, they “attempted suicide” opposed to “had an unsuccessful suicide.”

Challenge misconceptions. If you hear people use stigmatizing or harmful language, let them know.

Don’t use mental health conditions as adjectives. You shouldn’t call yourself “OCD” because you like to organize or say the weather is “bipolar” because it keeps changing. This undermines legitimate diagnoses.

Don’t refer to someone as “crazy,” “psychotic” or “insane.” For people going through challenging symptoms beyond their control, it can be very harmful to be labeled as “crazy” on top of it all.

Don’t use the term “others” or “abnormal.” Referring to people experiencing mental illness as “others” or “abnormal” creates an “us versus them” narrative. This can make people with mental illness seem inferior, different and as though they’re the outliers of society—which they are not.

Understanding of What You Might Not Understand

It’s challenging to understand something you’ve never experienced. And it’s easy to think that people are exaggerating or making up symptoms for attention, but this mindset is dangerous and hurtful.

Living with a mental health condition makes everyday tasks—like going to work, spending time with friends and getting out of bed in the morning—more difficult. If an employee needs a sick day for mental health or if a friend cancels plans at the last minute, try to be understanding and empathetic. You never truly know what someone else is going through.

Supportive of Other People’s Struggle and Recovery

Supporting other people can be challenging, especially when you don’t understand their struggle. It’s hard to know what to say and sometimes it can feel like a lot of pressure. But your support can have life-saving repercussions, as feeling supported is one of the most essential aspects for a person in recovery. For example, note the difference between these two conversations:

Your close friend has been distant lately. She doesn’t want to hang out anymore. When she does, she seems unhappy and withdrawn. One day, she’s upset about something you think is a small problem, so you don’t understand her reaction.

  1. After listening to her talk about and examine the problem from every angle, you get impatient. You’re tired of being around someone who is always unhappy and so easily upset, so you blurt out, “It’s not that big of a deal! Why are you so upset about this? Just snap out of it!”

    She starts crying and leaves. You don’t hear from her anymore.
  2. Even though you don’t understand why your friend is so upset, you want to help. After she finishes talking, you ask her, “Is anything else going on? I only ask because you seem a bit down lately. You can always talk to me.”

    “I don’t know… I haven’t felt like myself recently. I’m not sure why.”
    “Have you ever thought about going to talk to someone about it? I can help you research and go with you if you want.”
    “Yeah. Maybe I should do that. I would really appreciate your help."

The difference between the two is clear: stigma versus understanding and support. You can make a positive impact on someone’s mental health just by offering a few kind words. A few minutes of your time can change a person’s life.

Active in Spreading Mental Health Awareness

The societal perception of mental illness won’t change if we don’t act to change it. It’s up to us to tell others what it means to experience a mental health condition. Mental illness is real, and it isn’t always in a person’s control. People who live with mental health conditions are not alone—there is hope. For us, StigmaFree is more than a campaign—it’s the foundation of our movement to create a better world for people affected by mental illness. No real improvements will happen—to the health care system, to treatments, to research—if mental illness isn’t understood first. Monumental change won’t happen until people realize the harm stigma creates for millions of Americans.StigmaFree is our way of pushing towards this monumental change. Each person who takes the StigmaFree pledge helps us get one step closer. So, this Mental Health Month, join the movement, take the pledge and be StigmaFree. We need to show the world that we are all #IntoMentalHealth.

Resource content: https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/May-2017/How-You-Can-Stop-Mental-Illness-Stigma­­­­­­­

Top 11 Myths about Mental Illness

Myth #1: Mental health problems do not affect children or youth. Any problems they have are just part of growing up.

Reality: One in five children and youth struggle with their mental health. 70% of adult mental illness begins during childhood or adolescence, including: depression, eating disorders, and obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety disorders. However, 79% of youth who receive help improve significantly with treatment, which lasts less than 12 sessions for 66% of them.

Myth #2: It is the parents’ fault if children suffer from mental health problems.

Reality: Mental health disorders in children are caused by biology, environment, or a combination of both. They can be caused by genetics or biological factors such as a chemical imbalance or prenatal exposure to alcohol or drugs. They can also be the result of abusive or neglectful treatment or stressful events.

Myth #3: People with a mental illness are ‘psycho’, mad and dangerous, and should be locked away.

Reality: Most people who have a mental illness struggle with depression and anxiety. They have normal lives, but their feelings and behaviors negatively affect their day-to-day activities. Conduct disorders or acting out behaviors are consistently the primary reason for referral to a children’s mental health agency.

Myth # 4: All people with Schizophrenia are violent.

Reality: Very little violence in society is caused by people who are mentally ill (violence and mental illness). Unfortunately, Hollywood often portrays mentally ill people as dangerous. People with a major mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators.

Myth #5: Depression is a character flaw and people should just ‘snap out of it’.

Reality: Research shows that depression has nothing to do with being lazy or weak. It results from changes in brain chemistry or brain function. Therapy and/or medication help people to recover.

Myth #6: Addiction is a lifestyle choice and shows a lack of willpower.

Reality: Addictions involve complex factors including genetics the environment, and sometimes other underlying psychiatric conditions such as depression. When people who become addicted have these underlying vulnerabilities it’s harder for them to simply kick the habit.

Myth #7: Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), also known as shock therapy, is painful and barbaric.

Reality: ECT is one of the most effective treatments for people whose depression is so severe that antidepressant medication just don’t do the job and who are debilitated by the depression.

Myth #8: People with a mental illness lack intelligence.

Reality: Intelligence has nothing to do with mental illnesses or brain disorders. On one hand, many people with mental disorders are brilliant, creative, productive people. On the other hand, some people with mental disorders are not brilliant or creative. Certain mental illnesses may make it difficult for people to remember facts or get along with other people, making it seem like they are cognitively challenged. Overall, the level of intelligence among people with mental illness likely parallels the patterns seen in any healthy population.

Myth #9: People with a mental illness shouldn’t work because they’ll just drag down the rest of the staff.

Reality: People with mental illness can and do function well in the workplace. They are unlikely to miss any more workdays because of their condition than people with a chronic physical condition such as diabetes or heart disease. The real problem is the prejudice against hiring people with mental illness (how will disclosing my mental illness affect work/school). The resulting unemployment leaves them isolated, a situation that can add to their stress, and make it more difficult to recover from the illness.

Myth #10: Mental illness is a single, rare disorder.

Reality: Anxiety disorders, mood disorders, personality disorders, addiction disorders and impulse control disorders are all different categories of very different mental illnesses- each with its own features and underlying causes (common mental illnesses). Each mental illness is a variation on the theme of brain chemistry gone awry, affecting things like mood and perception and each has its own specific causes, features and approaches to treatment.

Myth #11: People with a mental illness never get better.

Reality: TREATMENT WORKS! Treatments for mental illnesses are more numerous and more sophisticated than ever and researchers continue to discover new treatments. Because of these advances, many people can and do recover from mental illness.

Now, how are you going to stop the stigma of mental health locally in your community?