Mental Health and Illness: Breaking the Stigma

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Mental health and mental illness is still such a taboo subject. Even in this day and age where we are finally starting to open up about it. However, there are still stigmas that we face when it comes to mental health and illness.

We are getting better at discussing it with the recent celebrity suicides. Chester Bennington, Robin Williams, Kate Spade, Chris Cornell, and Anthony Bourdain just to name a few. Even with these tragic lost lives there are still many stigmas that surround those that deal with mental illness on a daily basis.

In order to make the changes needed to save lives we need to break these stigmas that surround mental illness. The stigmas surrounding mental illness are not just societal ones, there are stigmas that people affected by mental illness place on themselves.

People that deal with mental illness are made to feel isolated, when that only deepens the problem. They are forced into isolation because of some the stigmas that they face and many people perpetuate these stigmas without realizing the damage they do.

Many people are often made to feel like they are crazy and dangerous. Mainstream media has often painted violent perpetrators as “mentally ill” which only furthers the stigma that people who are affected by mental illness are dangerous and violent. When it reality the majority of violent crimes committed are done by someone without a mental illness. The truth is majority of people who are struggling with mental illness only want to hurt themselves. This stigma that the media has repeatedly portrayed has led to social distancing and fear of those affected by mental illness.

Those who are affected by mental illness are often struggling with their own stigmas about mental illness. Some believe why should they try and seek out recovery because it will only worsen things. In reality in order to heal it will get worse before it gets better. It gets worse because in order to recover because you have to re-evaluate past traumatic experiences, learn positive coping mechanisms, learn positive behaviors and learn how to set new boundaries. People who are affected by mental illness have often adapted unhealthy coping mechanisms that they perceive manage their illness.

Even when people do open up about their mental illness, they can hear some negative feedback that leads them to feel embarrassment and shame about their condition. They can be told that the condition is just a phase and that it will pass. They can also hear that they can control it if they just tried hard enough. Some are told that it is all in their head and that mental illness isn’t a real disease because it often doesn’t display physical symptoms. Some hear that it is strictly a hormonal imbalance and that they can be cured with the proper mediation. They are often ridiculed for seeking out therapy and are told to toughen up and move on. People affected by mental illness are told that there is nothing really wrong with them and they are faking it just to receive attention.

All these comments and stigmas can instill shame and prevent people from seeking the treatment that they desperately need. There are ways that we can fight the stigmas that surround mental illness.

1. We can talk openly
2. We can educate others and ourselves
3. We can be more conscious of the language we use when talking about mental illness
4. We can encourage the equality between physical and mental illness- Just because you can’t see it doesn’t be that it isn’t there
5. We can show genuine compassion towards those affected by mental illness
6. We can choose empowerment over shame
7. We can be honest about treatment- Seeking out help is nothing to be ashamed about
8. We can let the media know when they are being stigmatizing- We need to hold them accountable
9. We need to stop harboring self-stigma- We need to stop being so hard on ourselves and others- no one affected by mental illness choose this

I am not saying that we are not making progress because we have made some progress over the years, however we need to make bigger strides now. There are plenty of people affected by mental illness that are suffering in the dark because of some of these stigmas. We do not want to only talk about mental illness when a celebrity tragically dies at the hands of mental illness. We need to talk about it now and every day.

In 2011, the World Health Organization(WHO) reported that 1 million people die from suicide a year. That equals 16 people per every 100,00. That equals 1 death every 40 seconds. The WHO predicts by 2020 that there will be 1 suicide death every 20 seconds.
In 2016, the Center for Disease Control(CDC) reported that suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. In just 2016: 44,965 people died of suicide in the US. That was an average of 123 suicides a day. The CDC reported that there were twice as many suicides (44,965) in the United States than there were homicides (19,362).

There are more statistics then these but just these should be enough to push for change in the way we address and change the stigma surrounding mental illness. One death is too many. We need to be the change.

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