You Can Help Fight Mental Health Stigma
Stigma is the attitude that refers to any attribute, trait, or disorder that causes a person to be labeled as unacceptably different. Stigma is fueled by negative stereotypes of people with mental illness and they are just as inaccurate and dehumanizing as stereotypes of racial minorities, people with physical and developmental disabilities, women, and people from other diverse groups.
There are many ways that we can all help to fight stigma and make it easier for people with mental health issues to get needed help. Here are a few adapted from Otto Wahl’s Telling is Risky Business: Mental Health Consumers Confront Stigma.
1. Learn more about mental illness. When you are better informed about mental illness, you will be able to evaluate more efficiently and resist inaccurate and negative stereotypes. Information is available at websites such as American Psychological Association.
2 Listen to people who have experienced mental illness. Stigma is diminished just by talking with someone who has a mental illness. Moreover, listen as they describe what they find stigmatizing, how stigma affects their lives, and how they would like to be viewed and treated.
3. Talk openly about mental illness. While it is certainly up to you to decide whom you’re comfortable telling and how much you want to share, don’t be afraid to let others know of your mental illness or the mental illness of a loved one. The more mental illness remains hidden the more people continue to believe that it is a shameful thing to be concealed.
4. Watch your language. Don’t use terms and expressions related to mental illness that perpetuate stigma, such as “crazy,” “loony,” or “nuts”. Also, put the person before the mental illness: instead of saying “the borderline,” say, “the person who has borderline personality disorder”.
5. Support mental health treatment. If you need help, seek it. If someone you know needs help, encourage them to do so. By conveying support that seeking help is not only OK, it is a strength; You will help diminish stigma.
6. Speak up about stigma. When someone you know misuses a psychiatric term, tell them what it really means. When someone tells a joke that ridicules mental illness or makes disrespectful comments about people with mental illness, tell them that you find such comments offensive and unacceptable.
7. Respond to stigmatizing material. Write, call, or e-mail people who stigmatize. Express your concerns and provide the accurate information that they can use in the future. Maybe a commercial, a show, or a movie is portraying someone with mental illness in a stigmatizing fashion. There are organizations that want to know about these instances. These include: ADS Center at samhsa and StigmaBusters at NAMI.
8. Demand change from your elected representatives. Certain policies that perpetuate stigma can be changed if enough people let their elected representatives know that they want such a change.
9. Provide support for organizations that fight stigma. You can make a contribution by joining or volunteering. MHAB is one of those organizations. We are always trying to fight stigma.
10. Contribute to research related to mental illness and stigma. To the extent that mental illness can be understood and treated, stigma will be reduced. Research will help us advance that treatment.