Breaking the Stigma
1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness each year. 50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14, and 75% by age 24. Additionally, suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 10-34.
For years, mental health offices and facilities have been portrayed in media as bare, white walls, people screaming, restraints, and electroshock therapy. Let’s not forget the terms often used socially such as psycho, crazy, mental, or insane when describing someone who is behaving out of the ordinary.
All of these ideas and behaviors contribute to a larger issue regarding the negative stigma with mental illness. The notion that seeing a therapist is only for someone that has “something wrong” with them. Over years of portrayed exposure in television and movies, mental health issues were often portrayed in a negative light until most recently. Unfortunately, it will take much time and effort to undo the stereotypes we have all been subconsciously conditioned to over the years.
In this new decade, there have been meaningful shifts in how society views mental health and wellness. Visiting your physician doesn’t contribute to feelings of shame or embarrassment, because it is perceived to be “normal” to attend regular wellbeing check-ups. As we progress towards a more positive and healthy understanding of mental illness, appointments with a therapist or psychiatrist will hopefully be just as accepted as “normal”. Although society has made great strides in the last few years, there is still more work to be done in fighting mental health-related stigmas.
In my experience in working with individuals who struggle with severe mental health and substance abuse issues, oftentimes their loved ones also struggle to digest information regarding their wellbeing. There are two types of stigma: self-stigma, and social stigma. Self-stigmatization has been defined as the process in which a person with a mental health diagnosis becomes aware of public stigma, agrees with those stereotypes, and internalizes them by applying them to the self. Social stigma can result from the perception of mental illness from society. Both of these stigmas often tend to be the barrier between someone seeking the support of professional help, or suffering in silence.
Some therapists choose to not diagnose or label their client to prevent them from feeling labeled, while other times having knowledge and information related to identified symptoms can help someone actively cope, gain insight, and recover.
Mental illness isn’t something to feel ashamed of, but rather something to accept and seek support for. With empathy, community, social support, and education - mental health visits can be thought of as equally as important as visiting a regular physician.
What can I do as a contributor to promote mental wellbeing?
When someone is seeking support, listen, try to withhold judgment, and encourage the help of professionals.
Be mindful of the vocabulary and language we use towards one another, and reaction when hearing that someone has been or wants to seek help.
Sometimes the act of “just listening” is more helpful than trying to solve the problem.
Allow for open conversations related to mental health. Choose empowerment over shame.
For more information about the mental health facts mentioned in this blog, visit NAMI.org.
Connecting with care,