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Break Open!

Updated: Jun 7, 2020

For decades people with mental illness have, at some point in their life, been blamed for their condition. They’ve been called names like ‘psycho’, ‘mad’ or ‘weirdo’. Most often their symptoms are referred to as something they can and should control “if only they tried hard enough.” They have been ostracised , outcasted and also illegally discriminated against, with no means of justice. This is the unwieldy power of STIGMA!

Stigma causes people to feel ashamed for something that is out of their control. Worst of all, stigma prevents people from seeking the help they need. For a group of people who already carry such a heavy burden, stigma is an unnecessary additional pain. Stigma can shatter hopes of recovery and social inclusion, leaving the person feeling devastated, lonely and useless.

What is Stigma?

Stigma is the rejection, avoidance or fear people direct towards those that 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. Stigma is said to be the most formidable obstacle to future progress in the arena of mental illness and health.

Stigma is widespread! It comes from everywher. From other so called non-mentally ill people, from institutions and even from within oneself as self-imposed shame. Each source of stigma represents a potential barrier causing profound damage that is very difficult to overcome.

Discrimination may be obvious and direct, such as someone making a negative remark about your mental illness or your treatment. Or it may be unintentional or subtle, such as someone avoiding you because the person assumes you could be unstable, violent or dangerous due to your mental illness. You may even judge yourself.

Due to stigma people with mental illness are often held responsible for their conditions and expected to change their thoughts and behaviors immediately. They are seen as unpredictable, erratic, aggressive and sometimes dangerous.

They are thought to be incapable of making rational decisions.

This could lead to some harmful and tragic outcomes such as:

  • Impaired school or social activities, fewer employment opportunities or trouble finding shelter.

  • Lack of understanding by family, friends, co-workers or others

  • Bullying, physical violence or harassment at public place.

  • Health insurance doesn't adequately cover your mental illness treatment.

  • The belief that you'll never succeed or that you can't improve your situation or that you’re not good enough.

  • Reluctance to seek help or treatment from a mental health professional.

Many people are still 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 is far worse than the illness itself.

Most people with mental illness may suffer from conditions like anxiety , depression stress etc which are easily treatable. Even though you don’t see it, it’s as real as gravity, it exists. But people hesitate to seek professional help only because of this associated stigma about mental illness.

Numerous people living with mental illness go about their everyday lives and successfully fulfill their roles at work, home and in their community. You wouldnt even know that a neighbor, a friend, a co-worker, supervisor or even your boss has a diagnosable mental illness, unless they disclose it themselves. Mental illness does not discriminate. But people often 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

How can you contribute to reduce the stigma of mental illness?

Know the facts. Educate yourself about mental health problems.
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.

Choose your words carefully. The way we speak can affect the way other people think and speak. Don’t use hurtful or derogatory language.

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.
Focus on the positive. People with mental health problems also 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.

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.

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 also have a right to take an equal part in society.

Be 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 illnesses like TB or cancer were considered “taboo” to talk about, but through open and honest conversations, and awareness about it, became de-stigmatized.

The more we talk about mental health conditions, the more normalized it becomes. Starting the conversation is the first step.

Be Respectful with Language

A person having bipolar disorder—he’s not bipolar. A person experiences mental illness—she doesn’t belong to a group called “the mentally ill.” 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.

Educate others.

Find opportunities to pass on facts and positive attitudes about people with mental health problems.

Don’t refer to someone as “crazy,” “psychotic” or “insane.” Don’t use the term “others” or “abnormal.” Referring to people experiencing mental illness as “abnormal” creates an “us vs 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.

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 wrong.

Be supportive of a person’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 Social support can have life-saving repercussions, as feeling supported is one of the most essential aspects for a person in recovery.

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. If you feel pressured and don’t know what to do or say, it’s always best to take your person to the people who know, the mental health professionals.

No matter how you contribute to spread the mental health awareness, you can make a difference simply by knowing that

Mental illness is not anyone’s fault !

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