It is unavoidable that most individuals think of people with mental illness as violent and dangerous. With the way the news outlets and mainstream media portray mental illnesses, it is easy to see how misinformed and misguided the general public is when it comes to actual people with mental health issues. Often enough, the attitude within society that view symptoms of psychopathology as uncomfortable, bizarre and threatening causes stigma and discrimination to people suffering from a mental illness. This is more rampant in cases when an individual is brave enough to admit that they have mental health problems, causing interpersonal conflicts between friends, colleagues and family members.
Mental health stigma can be divided into two. The social stigma is when society reacts untowardly to people with mental health issues due to the psychiatric label placed upon them such as depression. Another is the self-stigma or the perceived stigma of the mental health sufferer that significantly affects their feelings of shame with the way they internalize their perception of discrimination. This is the main reason why people suffering from mental health issues are reluctant to get the help they need.
Stigma and discrimination is rampant among societies even with the rising awareness of the importance of mental health. People will react negatively to something they do not understand. It is human nature. However, the taboo of discussing mental health is gradually declining. That is why it is important now more than ever to openly talk about mental health, about how it affects people with it and society as a whole.
Here are 10 ways to address mental health:
1. Educate yourself and others about mental health
The most obvious and often the most overlooked solution in addressing mental health stigma is education and awareness. It is important to educate yourself about the different types of mental illnesses and how they affect the person and the society they are in. When you hear or see someone perpetrating a negative stereotype or misconception, challenge the people respectfully. Never be afraid to speak up and educate people. This will help you and them in the long run.
2. Know the facts and talk openly about it
Mental health is one of the biggest factors in the holistic health of an individual. However, people still refuse to acknowledge that it is just as important, sometimes more so than physical health. One way to combat the stigma is to openly talk about it. Some people are brave enough to admit that they have mental health problems and that is good thing. They provide a living example that the myths and misconception of the society about a person with mental illness is wrong and often irrational.
3. Be aware of your language and attitude
The words retarded, crazy, lunatic and psycho or other derogatory languages should be avoided. Growing up with prejudices and judgmental mindsets is difficult and dangerous. It distorts how we see people to what they actually are. But luckily, it can be changed for the better. Because words matter. And how you act towards another person matters. They can make or break a person’s self-esteem and self-worth. That is why being mindful of one’s own words and attitudes is important.
4. Encourage the equality between mental illness and physical illness
As previously mentioned, mental health is just as important as physical health. Encouraging equality between both is a big help when dealing with stigma. While it is easy to see symptoms of physical ailments such as diabetes or pneumonia, mental illnesses are invisible. Often enough, we don’t blame someone when they act differently when they have diabetes or pneumonia so why should we blame a depressed person who falls short on fulfilling their personal obligations? Looking at mental illnesses and physical illnesses as equals can be a big help to destroy the stigma.
5. Focus on the positive
As humans, we are programmed to see the negative first to determine any threats to our wellbeing. However, one must also look at the positive. While it is indeed true that some people with mental illnesses have caused harm to others, we must not discredit those who have contributed their work and helped humanity. Edgar Allan Poe, arguably one of the greatest figure in modern literature suffered from depression and alcoholism. Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein, two of the most brilliant minds of the 21st century suffered from severe OCD and Dyslexia respectively. Vincent van Gogh, one of the most well-known artist to date suffered from severe depression. Look for the positive instead of the negative to see the person underneath the label.
6. Show support, compassion and empathy for those with mental health condition
While education and awareness play a large part to stop mental health stigma. Treating people who have mental health problems with respect, dignity and compassion is also important. They are already going through a difficult time. By showing your support in small ways such as a simple “are you okay” will mean a lot. Treating others like how you want to be treated and encouraging their efforts for treatment are only a few of the ways to help create a better, more accepting society.
7. Stop the criminalization of people with mental illness
It is a common occurrence in correctional facilities. How a person with severe psychiatric disability is sent off to a jail cell instead of a psychiatric hospital causing more harm than good. In fact, studies show than more than 16 percent of inmates are mentally ill at any given institution. They are four times more likely to be incarcerated for lesser crimes such as trespassing, misconduct and verbal threats than their mentally fit counterparts. While alcoholism and drug use are more common, it is a fact that they are manifestations of a mental health issue.
8. Stand up against the negative portrayal of mental illness in mainstream media
You’ve probably seen a few movies that depict mental illnesses as overly exaggerated science fiction where the person suffering from a disorder is a deadly and volatile individual. You’ve probably seen a few news segments of politicians and law enforcements blaming these so called “psychos” to deflect actual societal issues. The truth is, the human mind is a complex thing. No one is born with the sole purpose of killing people, they are created. With the way the mainstream media is portraying these people, they are promoting more stigma and discrimination and causing more harm than good. That is why it is important to know the facts and to stand up for mental health.
9. See the person for who they are and not for what they have
Treating people who have mental health problems with dignity and respect is only a small part. Seeing them for the person that they are and not the illness that they have is probably the best thing that you could do for them. It is important to remember that although they are going through something they are still people. They are still human with the unique traits and qualities that makes them special. Even people with mental issues and substance users can contribute to society. Denying them basic rights and decency is a violation to their humanity.
10. Advocate for a mental health reform
Mental health is still gaining its momentum for its proper place in health care and legislature. That is why as people, as a community, we should advocate for mental health as much as we can for the benefit of not only us but for the thousands of people across the world who are suffering from a mental illness. For the present and the future generations. With small steps of empowerment and awareness, the taboo nature of mental health will soon disappear.
Both stigma and discrimination are products of fear of the unknown. Both is not something that will just go away eventually, instead we as a community should work hard to make it disappear. To make sure that vulnerable people such as the mentally ill and the minorities have a voice who support the, and will stand up for them.
Remember, change starts with you.
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