Imagine receiving news from your doctor that you must take a medication for the rest of your life to keep your heart working, or your liver healthy. You’re probably going to do what you can so that you can remain healthy and increase your longevity.
Now let’s say that your doctor tells you that you must take medications, possibly for the rest of your life, to help you with a depressed mood, to keep your mood from swinging from high to low, or from hearing or seeing things that are not there. Yes, these are real conditions that require real help. These conditions primarily deal with the most complex organ in the body: the brain. And if your heart, liver, lungs, kidneys, and reproductive organs can be unhealthy and experience problems, then it makes sense that your brain can too.
There are those who don’t consider being depressed as something that is a condition, but rather something someone can pull themselves out of by simply getting up and getting over it. This is a type of behavior and attitude that is common in reinforcing negative stigma towards mental illness.
If you have ever experienced a loss, such as losing a loved one, you would not want anyone to come up to you and say, “Get over it.” In fact, it might make you feel worse or even angry. Just as the emotions experienced with loss and depression are real to the person experiencing grief, the emotions and experiences for someone living with a mental illness is real for them.
You may be wondering, who can become mentally ill? It can happen to anyone. It does not matter your level of income, education, or your ethnicity. The fact is, if you’re human, it can happen to you.
According to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), close to 48.3 million adults in the U.S. experiences mental illness in a given year. If that does not paint a clear enough picture, that is 1 in 5 adults. The numbers are similar with youth ages 13-18, with 1 in 5 who will experience a mental illness at some point in their life. That is a lot of people and may include you or someone you know.
Although the stigma toward mental illness in our society has reduced some, it still exists, and is still a problem.
Here are a few suggestions to practice that are helpful in reducing stigma.
Education is huge! www.nami.org is a highly recommended source of reliable information and resources regarding mental illness. The more you know, the better equipped you will be to educate yourself and others. And although some might say “ignorance is bliss,” in this case, you may just be inadvertently hurting yourself or others.
Talk about mental health. If we don’t talk about the reality of the issue, it does not make the issue go away. Talking about mental health can lead to an opportunity for learning. When there is an opportunity to talk to individuals living with mental illness and to listen to their experiences, it can have a powerful impact on our understanding. It may also lead to action and support.
Be an example. When you talk about mental illness, avoid terms, comments, and labels that perpetuate negative stigmas. Don’t be afraid to assert yourself when you hear others engaging in these types of communication. Use these moments as an opportunity to educate and reduce stigma.
There are so many more ways that you can get involved in helping to reduce stigma and be an advocate in your community. If you are interested in learning more and getting engaged, I encourage you to Visit www.nami.org for more information.
Daniel Park is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), native to Idaho, and has worked in mental health for over 10 years. He got his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Boise State University.