Sometimes, people are reluctant to seek care for mental health illnesses because they perceive a stigma surrounding mental health care. There might be people in your household, extended family, or community who are struggling with conditions like eating disorders, anxiety, depression, addictions, and other types of mental health disorders. These individuals might feel that their conditions are their own fault or that they are simply weak. Unfortunately, these attitudes are fostered by society in general. You can be stigma free and encourage others to do the same. Here are some tips on how to do that.
Understand Common Stigmas and Misconceptions
One way to be stigma free is to learn the truth about mental illness misconceptions. Here are some of the most common myths about mental health conditions debunked.
Myth #1: Addictions and eating disorders are a decision that someone makes, not a mental health condition.
Truth: People do not choose to become addicted to a substance or to develop an eating disorder. Once they have this type of condition, they cannot decide to stop the addiction or disorder; it takes mental health treatment for them to recover.
Myth #2: People with addictions or schizophrenia are dangerous to others.
Truth: The vast majority of people with mental health conditions are not dangerous, even if they have behaviors that make others feel uncomfortable.
Myth #3: People with mental illness do not make good employees or friends.
Truth: This misconception causes those with mental health conditions to spiral into isolation, depression, and even poverty or homelessness.
Myth #4: Those with mental health conditions are “faking” or “doing it to get attention.”
Truth: This misconception implies that mental illnesses are not real, which is untrue.
Myth #5: Depressed or anxious people should simply think positive thoughts to snap out of it.
Truth: If you wouldn’t assume that someone with a physical illness or injury (such as a broken arm, a sinus infection, or diabetes) should just think positive thoughts and snap out of it, it doesn’t make sense to think this way about someone with a mental health issue.
Myth #6: Mental health conditions are for life; there are no effective treatments.
Truth: This is believed by many, but the truth is that many (though not all) mental illnesses do not last a lifetime. Effective treatment often includes coping mechanisms, so even if someone is prone to a particular issue, they can often learn to manage it before it becomes a severe problem next time, either through counseling or medication.
Spread Information and Education
Another way to be stigma free is to help educate others on the truth about mental illness. If you hear someone repeating one of the above misconceptions (or something else that you know is untrue), speak up. It can feel intimidating at first, but realize the greater good you are doing by speaking against stigmas surrounding mental health issues. It’s simple (though not necessarily easy) to say, “actually, that’s not true,” and then fill in the fact.
You can also gently and kindly point out that repeating falsehoods adds to the stigma of mental illness. It can make it less likely that someone who needs treatment will seek it. That can lead to worsening mental illness and can contribute to the frequency of suicide and homelessness among the mentally ill.
It can be scary to reach out to someone who is dealing with a mental illness. You might be afraid that they will lash out at you or that they won’t want your attention at all. It’s possible that your fears will be realized, but it’s more likely that they will be appreciative of your willingness to get to know them and help.
How can you show compassion to those with mental health conditions or those at risk of developing mental health conditions? Here are some ideas:
- Ask a local senior center or church if they have elderly shut-ins on their rosters. The elderly are at risk of developing depression due to isolation. Ask if you can visit to talk, play games, or maybe share a meal.
- Talk to the homeless people in your area. Offer to buy them a meal and eat with them or offer them a backpack filled with hygiene supplies and snacks. Ask them about their lives and about what they need, and be non-judgmental if they tell you that they are addicted to alcohol or drugs. You might be the only person who talks to them that day.
- If a friend or relative is showing signs of a mental health disorder, reach out to them. Ask how they are doing and find out how you can help. Can you offer them a ride to a doctor or counselor’s office? Maybe they need some encouragement to get help.
Talk About Your Own Struggles
Have you dealt with anxiety, depression, alcoholism, or other mental health issues? Talking about them candidly can do a lot to defeat the stigma of mental illness. The people who you meet and who have been in your circle for a while likely consider you to be an intelligent, humorous, fun person. When they find out that people just like you can suffer from mental health conditions, it might be the first time they realize that those with mental illness are not very different from themselves.
Speak Out Against Mental Illness Stigma
If a politician, a newscaster, or a broadcasting company makes disparaging remarks about those living with mental illnesses, write to them and let them know you don’t support their statements. Remember that as a member of the general public, you have every right to speak up when something in a position of authority or who has a large audience says something that is wrong. Politely let them know that their misconceptions are hurtful and encourage them to retract what they have said.
Start Living Stigma Free Today
Mental illness does not have to carry a stigma. You can help change public perception regarding mental health concerns by educating yourself and educating others. Don’t be afraid to speak up and identify yourself as a stigma free advocate and a safe person for those with mental illness to turn to. If you have questions about mental health conditions, talk to a mental health professional.