Speaking Differently and Speaking Up: Progress in the Fight Against Stigma

Our society has come a long way in the fight against stigma in recent years! An American Psychological Association poll revealed that 87% of American adults agreed that having a mental health disorder is nothing to be ashamed of. This is something to celebrate as acceptance of mental illness plays a big role in helping those who live with these conditions obtain the support they need to pursue mental health stability.

But, there’s still much progress to be made. A 2019 CBS News Poll found that while nearly eight in 10 people believe that mental illnesses are real medical conditions and over two thirds say that anyone can struggle with these conditions, negative attitudes about mental illness are far from being extinguished. An overwhelming majority of respondents—nearly nine in 10 people—think there is at least some stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness in society today.

Two major developments in the way we talk about mental illness have contributed to the progress we’ve made to diminish stigma. The language we use and our openness about mental health struggles have paved the way for better discussions and improved attitudes about mental illness, and they’re primed to continue to chip away at misconceptions and negative perceptions.

Altering Our Language

In recent years our culture has seen a significant shift in the language we use to talk about mental illness. More than ever before, we’ve recognized the power of our words in perpetuating—or fighting—stigma and have become more aware of how to speak about mental health challenges in ways that help rather than hurt those who are struggling.

With this increase in understanding has come a drop in the use of phrases like “he’s bipolar” or “she’s a schizophrenic” as our culture has become more aware that these descriptions define people who are dealing with mental health conditions by these illnesses. We’ve learned to say “he’s living with bipolar disorder” or “she was diagnosed with schizophrenia” instead; and in doing so we’ve recognized that mental illnesses are just one facet of a person’s life. In addition, we’ve become more cognizant that using words like “crazy” and “insane” perpetuate negative stereotypes and can prevent those who are suffering from seeking help.

Opening Up

From athletes like Michael Phelps to musicians like Lady Gaga and Demi Lovato, numerous famous figures have spoken out about their own mental health struggles in recent years. As they’ve shared, they’ve helped us understand that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. In addition to internationally-known individuals such as Oprah and the British royals, several Dallas-area figures like Michelle Staubach Grimes (the speaker for our upcoming WellSpring Celebration Luncheon), Charles Haley (the speaker for our 2019 WellSpring Celebration luncheon) and Brian Cuban (a panelist at The Secrets We Keep, cosponsored with the Bishop Arts Theatre) have been leading the charge against stigma.

As these famous personalities have become more open about mental illness, our society as a whole has become more transparent about it as well. Mental health, self-care and therapy have all become normal topics of conversation; and the more we talk about them, the more we reinforce that mental health challenges are common and not causes for shame. Simply talking about the conditions that impact one in five Americans every year has played a powerful role in changing perceptions.

Personal Connection

Another way to fight stigma is to get to know people who live with mental illnesses. The American Psychological Association found that those who know someone who had been diagnosed with a mental health disorder were significantly less likely to say that people living with mental illnesses scared them. Simply spending time around those dealing with mental health challenges dispels the fear that can surround these struggles and opens doors to see these individuals as people with gifts and value.

Volunteering at The Well is an excellent way to gain this firsthand, stigma-fighting experience. We’re always looking for those willing to lend a hand, and we’d love to talk to you about how you could use your gifts and skills to bless members of The Well Community. Contact us to learn more about our many volunteer opportunities!

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