May is Mental Health Month.
SNAP OUT OF IT:
7 Ways to Stop Stigmatizing Mental Illness
In observance of Mental Health Month, the Alliance of Mental Health Providers of Oklahoma will share a series of social media graphics throughout the month of May to raise awareness about ending the stigma of mental illness. Our theme is SNAP OUT OF IT: Stop Stigmatizing Mental Illness. Thank you in advance for following along and sharing our message.
People with mental illness are often blamed for their condition. Whether suffering from anxiety or depression or a disorder such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or bipolar disorder, they are often disparaged and called names like crazy and psycho. In addition, their symptoms are sometimes referred to as a phase or something they can control. If only they’d just SNAP OUT OF IT.
Sadly, they people with mental illness have been illegally discriminated against, with no justice. This is the unwieldy power that stigma holds. Moreover, stigma causes people to feel ashamed for something that is out of their control. And, worst of all, stigma prevents people from seeking the help they need. For a group of people who already carry such a heavy burden, stigma is an unacceptable addition to their pain. And while stigma has reduced in recent years, the pace of progress has not been quick enough.
Every May, the mental health community comes together to raise awareness about mental health. Various organizations select different themes. For example, the 2021 theme for National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is YOU ARE NOT ALONE. In Oklahoma, the 2021 theme for the Mental Health Association of Oklahoma is CULTIVATING the MIND.
The 2021 theme for the Alliance of Mental Health Providers of Oklahoma (AMHPO) is SNAP OUT OF IT: Stop Stigmatizing Mental Illness. The play on words is designed to grab attention and fight the falsehood that people with mental illness are weak and should be able to control their condition.
Ways to Fight Stigma and Support Mental Health
First and foremost, the most important thing you can do is to get treatment for your condition or encourage those struggling to do so. Just like if you broke your leg or got sick, you’d schedule an appointment with your doctor to get better, don’t let the fear of being labeled with mental illness stop you or your loved ones from getting help. Treatment is vital to bringing relief and reducing symptoms that interfere with work and one’s personal life. As you or your loved ones seek treatment, remember to be kind and gentle with yourself and them. It is not easy to ask for help. It takes a lot of courage to speak up, and you (and your loved ones) are worth the effort.
Don’t Buy Into The Stigma
You may believe that mental illness is a sign of weakness and that you or the person struggling should be able to control it without help. You may treat yourself or others harshly because of these perceptions. Seeking counseling, education, being kind to yourself and others, and finding support from others with mental illness can help gain positive self-esteem, perspective, and overcome destructive judgment. Education can also help to move one toward acceptance of the areas they struggle in, as one learns they are not alone. Seeking help is imperative.
Education Yourself and Others
Knowledge is power. Educate yourself using reputable sources about mental illness, symptoms and treatments. Being informed is the first step in getting the proper treatment one needs for emotional wellness.
In addition, educate others that mental illness is a physical disorder that can be treated just as one would treat any other medical issue. Help them replace rumors and inaccuracies surrounding mental illness with facts.
You and/or your loves ones can also talk openly about the illness and daily struggles with safe and supportive people. Telling supportive persons about one’s recovery process will help people to understand the challenges others faces. When people understand what mental illness is, they are more likely to move past their negative views. Remember to avoid expecting people to understand right away. Stigma takes time to overcome. Be gentle with yourself and others in this process. Family therapy may also be helpful and be a neutral place to discuss barriers and obstacles.
Choose Your Words Carefully
Instead of saying, “I’m bipolar,” you may move toward saying, “I have bipolar disorder” or “I struggle with mental illness,” or “I was diagnosed with PTSD,” or “My brother struggles with depression.” This will help separate the person from the illness. No one is an illness. We all have multiple facets of ourselves. If diagnosed, mental illness is only part of a person, and we are not defined by only one aspect of ourselves. Being kind to yourself may be difficult. Therapy can help with this, along with practicing with supportive persons. Words can cut deeper than a knife. Kindness and self-compassion are a key in healing.
Join A Support Group
There are many local and national support groups that offer programs and resources. In addition, these groups are working hard to educate people with mental illnesses, their families, support systems and their communities to help reduce stigma and move toward empowerment and recovery.
The Oklahoma Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs (if it applies) and the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services are great places to start, and both are reputable resources. Often there are online groups and online resources for those diagnosed with mental illnesses, along with resources and groups for their supportive persons.
Choose Empowerment Over Shame
If you are struggling, honor and own your story, and don’t allow others to change your mind. Encourage those seeking support, and honor their story and struggles, and be encouraging. Be honest with the people around you. Show them who you really are by sharing your strengths, talents and goals. Encourage those struggling to do the same. Remember, the way you act and treat others can help influence people’s attitudes toward you and mental illness in general. Be kind to yourself and others in this process. Acceptance is difficult and takes time.
Speak Up Against Stigma
Whether it’s with a group of friends or in front of a large audience, express your opinions in an assertive and confident manner. Educate others respectfully about mental illness, to help promote change. Remind people that they wouldn’t make fun of someone suffering from heart disease, diabetes or cancer. Making fun of someone with mental illness is harmful, and only increases stigma, and promotes discrimination. Speaking up will not only educate the public and help reduce stigma, but it could also give courage to others facing a similar challenge and help them to seek help. Remember self-care during this process is vital. You are not alone; you do not have to fight every battle. Reach out for help and remember, self-compassion and self-care is a gift we all need to open daily.
Sources: NAMI, SummaHealth