Far too often mental health is considered a taboo topic. Society would rather ignore its citizens who suffer from mental health issues than give them the support they need. Whether we’re talking about psychological trauma, PTSD, depression, schizophrenia or another condition, real people--mothers, fathers, children, colleagues, neighbors--are deeply affected and often feel helpless. But you and I can make a difference. We have the power to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health and illness.
The Social Impact
One of the best things we can do when it comes to mental illness is acknowledge it. Attempting to ignore it is not going to make it go away. In fact, ignoring it only makes things worse. Addressing the issue gives ear to those who are affected. Addressing mental illness is the first step in eliminating the stigma that surrounds mental health. Society would have us believe that we need to isolate mentally ill individuals and treat them as less than, or ignore them all together.
This social conditioning causes those who are suffering to try to hide it or to feel alone and without support or options. This social conditioning is what drives the stigma and contributes to a lot of avoidable chaos. Countless lives have been lost and years of family interactions, friendships and careers, too. The mental health stigma is ruining lives and holding many of us back from seeking care. This is why we turn our noses up with disgust when we see someone who is addicted to drugs or talking to themselves as they walk down the street or the person who says they just don’t feel like getting out of bed everyday.
This unwillingness to see people is part of what keeps these negative attitudes alive. Are you willing to not only see people, but to also see their humanity and offer compassion and support? You can be an agent of change, and it’s not difficult. Something as small as speaking up for yourself if you struggle with mental health can make someone else feel more comfortable talking about their journey. You can also speak up when you hear someone making unkind or false remarks about mental illness. You might not make waves all over the world in a flash, but you can start by making a difference in your little corner of the world.
The Personal Impact
Everyone is affected by mental illness, whether you suffer from mental illness or you know someone who does. Those who are mentally ill have to live with their condition. Individuals may or may not feel comfortable talking about it or seeking professional help. Why? The stigma. Whether it’s cultural, religious or sheer ignorance, people are afraid of being judged. We all want to be accepted and live comfortably, free from pain. It’s human nature.
Seeking the proper and necessary treatment is important for healing, creating healthier behaviors and managing mental health. But if a mentally ill person doesn’t feel supported or they feel wrong or unjustified in getting professional help, they are less likely to get the help they need. Ignoring the issue makes things more difficult for everyone involved. This includes the mentally ill, their caregivers, their families, their colleagues and many others.
People who are mentally ill may find it difficult to maintain employment and relationships, get insurance and so much more. This is in addition to their illness. It’s not easy, but it’s not hopeless. When we make time for our mentally ill, we are recognizing them as valuable and viable. We are helping to break the stigma and erase it.
Sharing our experiences with mental health, our successes, our failures, our vulnerability, can do a lot more than you may think. Whether you’re a man, woman or child, your experience matters. It can completely change the way topics surrounding mental health and illness are approached. We have to start somewhere, because history has shown us that ignoring the problem does absolutely nothing to fix it.
You don’t have to struggle with mental health in order to be an advocate or a healthy part of a support system. Taking care of our mental health is part of living a healthy life, regardless of the stigma. The stigma that surrounds mental health must be broken, and it will take more than just mental health professionals and mentally ill persons speaking out.