Five Things You Can Do About Mental Health Stigma

I love #BellLetsTalk Day so much, I want to shout it from the rooftops. But it’s only the beginning — the conversation about mental health doesn’t end here. You can help fight stigma every day by using these strategies:

5thingsstigma

Learn to separate fact from fiction.

Mental illness is misunderstood. By learning more about mental illness, you can become a better ally and advocate for people who may not be able to advocate for themselves.

Unlearning some of our assumptions about mental illness can be very difficult. We’re constantly being bombarded with negative messaging around mental illness — think about how many times you’ve heard that depressed people are lazy, or that people with anxiety should just get over it, or that schizophrenic patients are dangerous to society. Think about how easily the media points a finger at mental illness every time there is a mass shooting. (For the last time, mental illness is not the cause of gun violence.) We are constantly being exposed to misinformation about mental illness, which exacerbates the stigma around these issues.

By learning more about the causes, symptoms, and treatment options for different mental health conditions, you can help dismantle false assumptions about mental illness, which will help reduce the stigma around these conditions. A good place to start? This Canadian Mental Health Association list of common myths about mental illness.

And stop using the word “crazy.”

Words matter. According to this Mic.com article, “Using ‘crazy’ or ‘insane’ in everyday speech — be it as a throwaway adjective or an insult — can be hurtful to people who live with mental illness.” As Lydia X. Z. Brown puts it, “Using that kind of language sends the message that it’s OK to trivialize mental illness.”

“Crazy” is a filler word, and your brain uses it as a shortcut when it can’t think of a more precise way of describing something. It’s easy to just stop saying it. When speaking or writing, focus on accuracy:

What’s happening in the U.S. is really crazy unbelievable.
My cat starts meowing at 6 a.m. and it’s really driving me crazy ruining my mornings.
I can’t believe this news story about Amanda Bynes, she’s totally crazy dealing with mental health issues and deserves some respect and privacy as she works to get better.

Expand your vocabulary and drop the word “crazy.” I promise you won’t miss it.

Be there for the people around you.

Isolation and loneliness are common by-products of mental health conditions, and they become a self-fulfilling prophecy: the more alone you feel, the less help and support you seek out, which in turn aggravates your condition, which makes you feel even more alone, and so on.

How can we break this cycle? Check in with your friends to show your support. This can mean being a good active listener if your friend wants to vent, or just letting them know you’re there for them if they don’t want to talk. Bell Let’s Talk has a few good phrases you can use to open up a conversation:

  • I’m sorry you aren’t feeling well.
  • I’ve noticed you’ve seemed down lately.
  • Is everything ok?
  • How can I help?

Conversely, here are a few things you should avoid saying to someone who’s dealing with a mental health condition:

  • Relax!
  • Chill out!
  • You’ll get over it.
  • It’s not a big deal.
  • Just think positive.

Little things can make a big difference to someone who’s struggling. Sometimes all you need is for someone to ask how you’re doing.

Use your knowledge to help eradicate the stigma around mental illness.

There’s a lot of shame associated with depression and anxiety. I spent years hiding the way I felt from everyone I knew, including my family and close friends, because I didn’t know much about mental illness and didn’t want to appear dysfunctional in any way. As you can probably guess, that did a lot more harm than good in the long run and I’m still dealing with the after-effects years later.

Stigma silences people and exacerbates their suffering. When you understand the causes and symptoms of mental illness, it becomes easier to talk about it openly, and the more we talk about it openly, the less stigma exists around these issues. So challenge stereotypes, stand up for people, and really listen if someone tells you they’re struggling.

And if you’re worried about your own or a loved one’s well-being, seek help.

According to the CMHA, suicide is one of the leading causes of death in both men and women from adolescence to middle age. It accounts for 24% of all deaths among 15-24 year olds and 16% among 25-44 year olds in Canada.

Those stats break my heart. Death by suicide is preventable, but we need to look out for one another. If you or someone you know is in crisis and requires immediate assistance, call 911 or head to the ER. The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention is launching an integrated Canada-wide distress and crisis line service later this year, but until then, learn to recognize the signs and find a place to get help.

Mental illness isn’t a choice. By showing your support for someone who’s living with a mental health condition, you are contributing to their recovery.

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That’s it for me today. Thanks for following along with my #BellLetsTalk Day posts!

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One thought on “Five Things You Can Do About Mental Health Stigma

  1. Hi. I’m glad to have found your blog. I also have mental illness and like you, it took me a long time to ‘come out of the closet’ if you will. It’s interesting to find this post today. Just this morning someone posted a meme on facebook showing nature as the cure for depression and a pile of pills representing death. People were actually liking it and laughing about how easy it is to just choose to feel better, if we just get up and go outside we will be magically cured. I added my 2 cents about how the meme does nothing but support the stigma around mental illness. Anyway, I’m looking forward to reading more of your blog ❤

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