The Stigma Surrounding Mental Health
We’ve all heard the sayings and words regarding mental health: “Crazy”, “Out of their mind”, “Lost their marbles”, and more. There is a significant stigma – known as a mark of disgrace or shame regarding both situations and people - surrounding mental health. From struggling with symptoms to managing diagnoses, many people view poor mental health as a shameful or embarrassing thing. However, this is ultimately untrue – mental health is not the enemy, and it is nothing to feel negatively about. The following includes some ways that you and those around you can understand mental health without succumbing to a negative or shameful view of it.
If you are someone struggling with mental illness, breaking down the view of mental health for yourself can be challenging. Stigma around your personal mental illness is often one of the most fearful things to face; however, if you struggle with mental health, know firstly that it is not your fault. Your difficulties are not a result of anything you have done or have failed to do. Mental health and any challenges therein are not reflective of any shortcomings. Furthermore, know that you are not your mental illness and that it does not define you. You have many opportunities available to you, and you can have grounded hope that your quality of life will only improve with proper treatment and maintenance. Seeking help for your mental health is nothing to feel self-conscious about; rather, it is something you can take pride in. Knowing that you are taking holistic care of yourself can be a source of comfort in otherwise overwhelming circumstances.
Taking apart the stigma when personally dealing with mental illness can feel daunting. It is important to remember several things when facing challenges with your mental health. In order to begin to process and come to terms with your status, it is crucial that you take care of yourself in a variety of ways. Opening up to friends and family about what you are experiencing is a helpful strategy to begin to process what you are feeling. These conversations allow others into your life so that they can help and support you. Additionally, pursuing professional treatment for your mental health is a key component to reducing stigma. As you meet with your providers and create a treatment plan, it often becomes a more normalized and regular thing to do. Soon, it should not feel so intimidating to attend your appointments and share your symptoms with your provider. Remembering to take time for yourself throughout the process is vital – whether it’s partaking in an activity you enjoy, engaging in self-reflection, or spending time with people, the ways in which you show love to yourself can lessen the negative connotations around your mental health. Once you find a strong support system, from providers to loved ones to even yourself, the stigma around your mental health is often reduced and the burden lessened.
Another way you can reduce stigma surrounding personal mental health is through research. If this is something you feel would benefit you, you can begin to look into your symptoms, diagnoses, and more. This can help acquaint you with your circumstances and educate you on your current situation. Knowing how your brain and body function can assist you in lessening stigma as you realize it all comes down to how your body is operating. This reiterates that it is of no fault to anyone; it is a biological and sometimes sociological response. However, during this research process, it is imperative that you keep several things in mind:
1) Do not diagnose yourself with any illnesses; leave that to your provider. If you are in the hands of a medical professional, trust them to find and treat what is going on. Your provider should welcome any questions you have, so use them as a resource for your research. Ask questions and be involved in your treatment so that you can understand what is going on and feel more at ease with your situation.
2) Ensure that you are using substantial, reliable resources. Medical journals, scholarly articles, and sources that are backed up by factual research are the best options to look into. Opinions, blogs, and social media posts are generally not reliable places to acquire your information. Check that you are receiving the best and most accurate information possible.
3) Finally, do not exhaust yourself researching. While it can be beneficial to look into things, do not let it overwhelm or overtake you. This is ultimately to help you, not to hinder your growth and health. Do not be intimidated by medical jargon or severe cases; rather, it is better to simply acquaint yourself with the basics of your diagnoses and follow up with your provider for the rest.
As you acquaint yourself with your situation and process your ongoing treatment, remember to give grace to yourself. Manage your expectations in order to make room for the ebbs and flows that come with your mental health. It is natural and normal to have periods of frustration with your health; however, it makes it that much more important to make sure your support system and treatment plan are working for you. Follow up with your providers and loved ones if you feel yourself needing more help than what you are receiving. You are not a burden, and your mental health is just as important as your physical health – there is no shame in seeking assistance.
You may be a friend or family member of someone who is struggling with their mental health. The connotations surrounding their illness may have affected you and even altered your perspective on the situation. Yet, some insight into their circumstances may help you support and love them in the best way possible. Firstly, remember that their mental illness is not something that they can help. Depression, anxiety, ADHD, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, schizoaffective, OCD, PTSD, and/or even addiction are not a result of the person’s actions or behaviors. Rather, these are mental health issues to be taken seriously.
In order to continue to reduce stigma, knowing how to help is a crucial element of the process. When a loved one approaches you with their mental health situation, it is important to approach the circumstance with as much support as possible. Know that you cannot fix the situation on your own; instead, try to give care as much as you can by finding them professional resources. You can be supportive by listening, asking non-judgmental questions, and helping them find an office that can provide them with psychiatric care. This could be a counselor, a medication management practitioner, or a combination of both. Know that you are not responsible for any problems that may arise, and know that it is okay to set boundaries if anything becomes too much for you. It is important to protect your own mental health through this, and establishing boundaries with your loved one can be a tool to protect you both. Remember to encourage them to seek professional help so that the care does not fall entirely on you. By providing support and comfort, you are reducing the shame that often accompanies conversations regarding mental health.
Throughout the process, remember that your support matters to the individual in order to reduce any shame or stigma associated with their situation. You are a trusted part of what they are going through, and know that they are opening up to you because of their relationship with you. Try not to brush them off with phrases such as:
“It will go away if you just try hard enough.”
“It could be worse.”
“Let it go already!”
“This is because of your medications, don’t worry about it.”
At times, it can be hard to know what to say, but avoiding phrases like these will be invaluable to the person you are conversing with. Try to consider the following phrases:
“How are you doing?”
“I’m here for you.”
“How is your treatment plan working?”
“You deserve the best care possible, and you deserve to feel well”.
Using words like these can encourage your loved one and help them stay hopeful in the journey to their mental wellness. It can be difficult, but keep in mind that your support means a lot to them; it can truly make an impact.
At times, mental health can be a difficult idea to understand and approach; however, it should not be a scary, daunting thing. Stigma can be a frustrating thing to sift through as you process your own or another person’s mental illness. Keeping in mind the above information and continuing to work through your understanding of mental health will go a long way in the journey to destigmatizing mental illness and psychiatric diagnoses. Remember that the energy you put in to help yourself and those around you with their mental health is valuable and helpful. As we continue to learn and sort through what we know about mental illness, be involved with your own treatment and remain invested in taking care of yourself. Be your own advocate, keep in touch with your or a loved one’s symptoms, and remember that your efforts to reduce stigma positively impacts those around you who may be dealing with mental health issues.