In this day and age, we are connected in more ways than ever before. We have been making strides to raise awareness of anxiety, depression, and suicide both in our communities and on social media—so why does it seem like mental illness is still so difficult to talk about, and more people are not getting the help they need? Read on to learn about the social stigmas currently surrounding mental health in the United States and what we can do to create meaningful change.
What is Stigma?
Stigma refers to the negative way in which our society views a particular topic. Individuals who experience the stigmatized condition are often looked down upon within society. This affects their social status and further contributes to the structural and institutional discrimination that could lead to isolation, substance use, trouble with the justice system, self-harm behaviors, or even suicide.
The key features of stigma include, but are not limited to:
- An agreed-upon belief by a community that constitutes what is considered normal versus abnormal within society.
- A communal judgment that applies for a lower class status upon the stigmatized group.
- The discrimination of a specific group can affect one’s socioeconomic prosperity, mental health, and overall quality of life.
How Do We Reduce the Stigma Associated with Mental Illness?
Raise Awareness for Resources
Social stigma related to mental illness is deeply rooted in the framework of society and the attitude cultures have towards it. To combat stigma, we must first understand the processes that created it, including how it becomes entrenched in our social and cultural identities.
Every community is different. The attitudes surrounding mental illness and suicide can vary based on the cultural make-up, ethnicity—and even access to funding for mental health resources. There have been promising results that show an increase in resilience to stress, and reductions in depression, anger, substance abuse, and risk of incarceration when public health efforts incorporate cultural strengths and beliefs—such as those of Indigenous populations—into their programs. These beliefs include the importance of family, community, spirituality, and group identity.
Here are 5 simple ways you can help reduce the stigma around mental illness:
- Educate yourself.
Make a conscious effort to educate yourself about the misconceptions that surround mental illness. Knowledge is power and can help break down barriers associated with mental illness.
- Educate others.
Pass on facts, positive attitudes, and behaviors while challenging myths and stereotypes; counter inaccurate information with facts and data.
- Be supportive.
People who have mental illness do not want to be defined by their diagnosis. Treat everyone with and respect; offer support and encouragement.
- Be conscious of your language.
Language matters. Watching the way you speak about mental health and suicide, as well as refraining from using health conditions as adjectives can be one of the first steps toward destigmatizing the conversation around mental illness.
- Be a good role model.
Model these stigma-reducing strategies through your own comments and behavior while politely teaching them to others. Spread the word that treatment works and recovery is possible. Changing attitude takes time, but repetition is key, so it’s important to bring about a positive shift in how we treat others.
Together we can raise awareness around mental illnesses and reduce the stigma surrounding them.
At the Yavapai Justice and Mental Health Coalition, we are passionate about delivering mental health initiatives that will transform the lives of people in our community. Visit our website to learn more about our efforts and how you can get involved.