By Valerie Rice | October 20, 2020
I know I talk a lot about mental health and a wide variety of issues that go along with it. Hell what doesn’t go along with mental health, right? Since we just covered World Mental Health Day, and we occasionally discuss stigma, let’s bring that to the forefront. I mean, hyper focus on that for a bit. What, indeed, is stigma and how do we stop it? Other than pay lip service and promise to be nice, like everyone does once a year. Because let’ s be honest: 1 in 4 adults will suffer from mental illness, and yeah, I mean suffer.
UNDER THE MICROSCOPE
Stigma means that someone has a negative stereotype attached to them based on their illness. Does that sound like a bunch of BS? Because it totally is. The problem is that most people don’t see it that way; they assume that since people act abnormally thanks to mental illness, they must have some sort of problem at their core. That’s just not true. Humans can be judgmental jerks. Admit it….we totally can be. That’s just in our nature, and helps us survive. But we are not animals, and we have evolved to be better than that, so let’s knock it off.
- Avoid Treatment
- Targets for Discrimination
- Victims of Violence
- Victims of other Crimes
Acting like this actually hurts people and makes the problem worse. What? No way! Yes, way. Because stigma keeps people from getting treatment, leads to discrimination in work, school, and housing, and leads to bullying and violence. Sheesh. What should we do?
ERADICATE THE ENEMY
Okay, but how? Yeah, that’s the first question on everybody’s mind. The steps are actually quite simple. We start with education. Do you or someone you love have a mental illness? (I sound like a commercial, huh?) If your answer is yes, you get the honor of learning everything you can about it. EVERYTHING. And lucky you, there are tons of resources available on the internet! Like this one, this one, and this one. But don’t stop there, I bet the person who handed down the diagnosis has tons of information, too. Become the expert because knowledge is your best weapon here.
Once you know what you are dealing with, pass it on. Educate friends and family members so that they, too, understand that you are dealing with an organic enemy and not some personal flaw. The more people who understand, the better. Now take your newfound knowledge and examine your thoughts. Yep. Do you have long held prejudices or preconceived notions that don’t fit your facts? Erase them. It takes time, but start by rewriting your word choices, both internally and out loud. Choose your words carefully and, if you hear those misconceptions in your head, correct them immediately.
Alright, we hear this one all the time, but what does it really mean? I know I, for one, often have a hard time connecting an abstract concept to action, so if you are confused, you are not alone. We already talked about changing our ideas and thoughts, so I’ll just say it louder for the kids in the back. FORGET THE STEREOTYPES, YO! Moving on. Now you get to be more active. Start treating everyone with dignity and respect, even the coworker you can’t stand. You heard me. You have absolutely no way of knowing if someone’s behavior is linked to mental illness, so change yours first. Many of the things people find irritating are actually tics or manifest behaviors of mental illness, so no judgy-pants lashing out anymore. In fact, focus on the positive aspects of that person. Do they get their work done quickly? Maybe they have excellent time management skills. You never know until you look.
Offer yourself as a resource or someone to talk to. Building a social support network is essential for people with any illness, and if you want to help, be there. You also have to be inclusive. This means not excluding people based on illness. It is illegal to deny based on people access to work and housing mental illness, but come on, you know companies do it. Ever see apartments with ridiculous income requirements that no disabled individual could come close to, even though they can pay the rent? Yeah. Loophole. Knock it off. And call them on their sh*t. I’m not kidding, you get to use your powers for good. Companies using loopholes for discrimination will only change if enough people complain and call them out. Same with biased jerks who keep using words like “retard.” Call them out. Try it. It feels really good to stand up for people.
- Drop Stereotypes
- Dignity and Respect
- Focus on Positives
- Offer Help
So there you have it. A basic understanding of what YOU can do to help in the war against stigma. Luckily, you can use these things for most forms of discrimination, they aren’t mental health specific. BUT, for our purposes, we are focused on mental health issues. Besides, mental illness can strike any person at any time. If you are lucky enough to have a sense of empathy, you can see how important it is to take action now. If you are reading for purely selfish reasons, have a cookie, and ask yourselves “What would it feel like to be marginalized and abused by society and the system? Would I like a friend? Perhaps I should be proactive.” Not that most people on here are purely selfish, but I play a lot of D&D and who knows, you could be chaotic neutral. I know I feel that way sometimes. Let’s get to work!