Stigma is an all-too-common experience for those dealing with mental illnesses. For members at The Well, it does its damage daily.
The majority of those who live with mental illness experienece the pain of stigma. In fact, just one in four people with mental health symptoms believe that others are caring and sympathetic to those living with mental illnesses.
Stigma sets people apart in the eyes of others, so that they’re lumped together with a stereotyped group and considered unworthy of respect. It defines people as their illness and gives them a mark of disgrace, perpetuating negative attitudes and prejudice toward them.
Stigma hurts those with mental illnesses in many ways, including preventing them from seeking care and encouraging discrimination toward them. But, each one of us can help to stop stigma, and in turn, stand up for those who face it.
See the person.
Think about it. When someone has diabetes, it may impact their life in numerous ways, from prompting them to change habits to making daily medication necessary. But, they are not diabetes. They are far more than their medical condition. Their diagnosis doesn’t define them. The same is true of those deaing with mental illnesses. The disorder they have may alter their behavior and require regular medical care. But they are not the disease. See them for who they are, not for what the illness does to them.
Watch your words.
Using terms like “crazy” to describe someone with a mental illness is relatively common, but it can be incredibly harmful. Labels like these are not only disrespectful and hurtful, they reinforce unfair stereotypes and can prevent those with mental illnesses from seeking care.
Avoiding labels altogether can help people with mental illnesses be seen as more than their conditions. In addition to banning words such as “psycho” and “lunatic,” take care to refer to people who have an illness, not people who are an illness. For example, say, “he deals with bipolar disorder,” rather than “he is bipolar.”
Get the facts.
Myths about mental illness play a big role in perpetuating stereotypes. For example, people struggling with mental illnesses may be viewed as dangerous and violent, but the truth is that these individuals are more likely to be victims of a violent crime than they are to commit one. Over the course of a year, one in four individuals living with a mental health condition will experience some form of violence. But, because of this myth, they are often viewed with unnecessary fear and are subject to rejection.
It’s hard to imagine blaming someone with epilepsy or Alzheimer’s for their condition. It’s just as ridiculous to blame someone who struggles with major depression or schizophrenia for behaving the way their brain disorder prompts them to act. Conditions like these affect the mind in real, measurable ways. They aren’t a sign of weakness or a result of poor parenting, and they shouldn’t be a cause for shame.
The more people who share their stories about mental illness, the more accepted and understood these stories will become. Compassion and kindness foster a safe space for friends and family members to talk about their experiences.
Give to Organizations that Serve People with Mental Illnesses
Members of The Well Community daily encounter the barriers of stigma on top of the many other challenges they face in dealing with mental illness. The Well provides a place where community members are safe from the sting of stigma. Help us continue to offer them a place to belong.