Mental illness is very common, in the UK alone it affects 1 in every 4 people. Yet there is still a stigma attached to those affected by it. This stigmatisation can seriously impact a persons health and happiness. In fact, nearly 9 out of 10 people with a mental illness say that stigma has affected them, That’s a lot of people!
It definitely had an impact on my health and happiness. From a young age, I often had those around me dismiss my mental illness as “just hormones”. Other times I would be told to stop attention-seeking or just to get over it.
Even as an adult I’ve battled the negative beliefs/opinions around mental illness. In between constantly justifying myself to my employers over my health and struggling to get help, I felt like I was fighting all the time.
Eventually, I just stopped talking about it and instead hid it all behind a happy, overly chatty and ditzy mask. I’d always been a chatty person, I learned how to carry on that behaviour even when I was crying inside. Only with a few good friends could I let even a little of it out.
It’s only in the last two years that I’ve begun to open up to those around me though I still don’t find it easy.
No one should feel that they can’t talk about their mental illness or that they’re to blame for it. They shouldn’t have to fight for empathy and understanding. In this post, I’ve listed some of the ways that we can help to end the stigma surrounding mental illness.
Remind people that mental illness is a recognised health condition
Many people who don’t have experience with mental illness don’t realise that it’s genuine health condition just like heart disease or diabetes. This is often because many people with mental illness hide their symptoms. From the various people I’ve spoken with many have said that most people around them didn’t realise they were ill.
Unfortunately. a lot of these people feel that they have to hide their condition believing they would lose their employment or that they will be judged and isolated. It can be easy to dismiss or misunderstand something if you have never experienced it.
By reminding other’s that mental illness is a recognised (and common) health condition you’re helping to dispel the stigma that surrounds it.
I started doing this in the last year or so and generally speaking I have had positive responses from others. Most of the time they admitted that they hadn’t realised how serious it was. That they weren’t aware of how challenging it could be.
It’s not an easy thing to do especially if, like me, you worry about what others think of you. I don’t always feel confident or comfortable enough to do this (and that’s okay!) But each time you do you’re helping fight the stigma.
Challenge the media
The media has a lot to answer for when it comes to the stigma around mental illness.
The media have consistently misrepresented those with mental illness for many years. I’ve seen this a lot in films especially those from Hollywood. If you have a mental illness you’re either violent and dangerous or easily cured. Both portrayals have had a huge impact on how mental illness is perceived.
The same can be said about newspapers, books and even music. Social media also has its part to play in stigmatising mental illness with negative and unrealistic content.
In recent years there has been a change in how mental illness is perceived. Shows like Bojack Horseman and One day a time and films such as Silver linings playbook demonstrate that. The same can be said of social media with new voices appearing talking about mental illness in a realistic and non-romanticising way.
But there’s still a long way to go and more that we can all do.
It might seem like there’s not much you can do about stigma in the media but there is. If you read newspapers and notice they’ve written a negative article about mental illness then write to them. If a tv show you watch has a stigmatised portrayal of a character with mental illness, then write to the channel. If you read a book you feel is stigmatising then leave a review on Goodreads.
If you don’t feel comfortable doing that then you can always comment on their social media pages. Pretty much all companies have Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts. This also means that you can leave comments on content you feel is inappropriate.
Equally, if you see something that you think really does this well then say so. People often use other people’s recommendations and reviews to decide whether they want to view the content.
Talk about your mental illness
The more people that come forward to talk openly about their mental illness the more understood the condition will become. People all over the world are connected to each other in a way they never were before. This means that when you talk about your mental illness it can reach a huge audience.
I know that it can be scary to put yourself out there. I get it. I’ve wanted to create my own blog for years but it’s only this year that I felt brave enough to do it. Putting yourself out there can make you feel very vulnerable. It’s okay if you don’t feel you can do it right now.
You have to feel strong enough and only you get to decide when that is.
For those of you who do feel you can then there is a load of ways, you can do it. You can open up to family and close friends (if you haven’t already) or you can talk about it on social media. If you enjoy writing you can write your story for websites like Mind and The Mighty.
You can also create a blog to share your experiences! Want to take the plunge and start your own blog? Definitely check out Suzi’s blog Startamomblog it’s an awesome site for anyone, not just mom’s, looking to start a blog.
Educate others and yourself
I don’t mean start holding classes on mental illness in your garage (unless you want to ofc) By educating I mean teaching others the truth about mental illness. It can be things like showing information about mental illness or recommending documentaries.
It’s also being aware of the language used when talking about mental illness. For example explaining why saying “I’m depressed.” because of the weather isn’t helpful. Suggest alternatives like “I’m sad.” instead.
It’s also important to be aware of your and others language when describing someone who has a mental illness. All too often words like ‘psycho’ and ‘nutter’ are used and this just reinforces peoples belief that people with mental illness are violent and/or insane. Many such words are offensive as well as being inaccurate. Again, explaining to others why their words need changing often leads to a better understanding.
Want some suggestions of language to use when describing someone with mental illness? Need an idea of what can be offensive? Check out The Mental Health Foundation’s post on the language we use to describe mental illness and why it does matter.
I struggle with this a lot. I have a much better understanding of my mental illness and because of this, I know that I have nothing to feel ashamed about. Yet knowing this doesn’t always quiet that voice in the back of my head.
I’m sure many of you out there know what I’m talking about. That voice that tells you not to talk about your mental health problems because people will judge you, or that you’re just being silly or you’re crazy and can’t be “fixed”.
To be honest I think that my own self stigmatisation has had as much of a negative impact on my life as stigma from others. Of course, self-stigma wouldn’t exist if there wasn’t any stigma surrounding mental illness which makes it that much easier to fall into that trap.
How do you fight self-stigma?
It’s not easy and I don’t win every battle but each one I do is a step towards winning the war. You can fight it in different ways. It could be that you ignore that voice and talk openly about your mental health problems.
Or maybe you’ve avoided seeing your doctor and instead decide to go and seek treatment. I started small just regularly reminding myself that my mental illness is an acknowledged health condition.
Be there for people with mental illness
You can help fight the sigma even if you personally don’t have a mental illness or have never experienced mental health problems.
Just giving support and encouragement to those you know who do can make a huge difference. One of my closest friends doesn’t have any mental health problems yet he has always been incredibly supportive of me. Even something as simple as letting the person know they’re not alone can be such a help.
Not sure how to support someone with mental illness? It’s okay to not know how to be there for someone. It’s not as if we’re all born with this kind of knowledge or that we can just read someone’s mind and pick it all up. It’s challenging, especially since some people don’t know how to express what they need or have no idea what might help them.
If you know someone is struggling with mental illness and you’re not sure how to help them then try asking them what they feel they need from you. It might be that they just need someone to listen to them vent without trying to “fix things”. Or it could be something as simple as making them a nice cup of tea/hot chocolate/coffee.
If you don’t think you can ask or if the person doesn’t know what they want then maybe checking in with them regularly can make a difference. Sometimes just having someone send a message letting you know they’re there if you need them can help.
Support organisations that work to help those with mental illness
There are a lot of different organisations out there that are fighting to destigmatise mental illness. Many of these are charities that don’t receive funding from places like the government. There are a variety of ways you can help support them from donating to working as a volunteer to just getting more people to read their blogs or watch their videos etc.
Some of the biggest in the UK are:
Mental Health Foundation – Good mental health for all
Mind – For better mental health
Anxiety UK – National charity helping people with anxiety
Bipolar UK – Supporting people affected by bipolar
CALM – Campaign against living miserably (for men aged 15 to 35)
Altering Images Of Mentality – Tackling the discrimination and stigma faced by mental health sufferers
For more check out my resource page here
Have a suggestion for how to help end the stigma? Tell me about it in the comments below.
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