Your best friend. Your dad. Your aunt. Your coworker. You. One of these people is managing a mental illness, and you may not even know it.
According to research, approximately 20% of the population in the United States have been diagnosed with a mental illness, and more than half of those people often avoid or delay seeking treatment due to the fear of being treated differently by their family, friends, and peers.
You may be thinking, even now, “I would never treat someone differently if I found out they had a mental illness or were going to therapy!” But I challenge you to think of someone with whom you have a close relationship who seemingly “has their life together”, someone that you wouldn’t think to have a mental illness. In your next conversation with this person, they tell you that in actuality, they have been struggling with their mental health and have been seeing a therapist for some time. What emotions arise when you picture that scenario? Allow yourself to actually feel instead of pushing away any shortcomings that you may want to deny having.
As a practicing mental health professional for the last 5 years and as an advocate practically my entire life, it can still be striking to me when someone proudly announces that they’ve been in therapy or recently received their own diagnosis.
A few months ago I was in a store where an associate was helping me with a purchase. We got to chit chatting about what I do for work, and she casually mentioned being in therapy to work on some emotional problems she had been having. At first, I was taken aback, possibly by how open and forthcoming she was with a complete stranger. But then my second thought was, “Wow, I love how comfortable she is with herself. She must be learning a lot in therapy”.
I’m not perfect; no one is. So, this is me being honest and addressing my shortcomings and holding myself accountable to continue making changes in my own life, so that I’m no longer shocked when people feel at ease enough to talk about their problems in a casual setting. We’re all human; we all have problems. Our lives are not as perfect as social media portrays it to be.
Now, let’s dive a little deeper into the different kinds of stigmas towards mental health and how they can be harmful.
Stigma is typically rooted in a lack of understanding. The unknown can be scary, more so than just related to mental health. Often times people look for ways to explain the unexplainable, whether that information is factual or not.
Research on the matter has extracted three types of stigmas, specifically related to mental health:
Public Stigma describes the negative attitudes that the general public has about mental illness or those that have a mental illness. This variant often leads to discrimination, reduced autonomy or independence, and segregation from the community. For example, people with mental illnesses are more likely to experience housing and employment discrimination, which can lead to homelessness and unemployment.
Self-Stigma is related to the negative attitudes, most often shame and low self-esteem, that people with mental illnesses can have regarding their own condition. This can be manifested when an individual internalizes those negative stereotypes that have been thrust upon them by Public Stigma. For instance, you know the sky to be blue, correct? Just as an individual with mental illness knows themselves to be a good person. However, if you are continuously told, directly or indirectly, that the sky is in fact yellow, you will eventually believe it to be true.
Institutional Stigma is known more on a macro, systemic level that includes policies of government and companies that, knowingly or unknowingly, limit opportunities for people with mental illnesses. This could include less funding for mental illness research or fewer mental health services relative to other forms of health care. The media can also fall under this category in the unrealistic portrayal of mental illness in movies and television shows.
So, how can we work to change the stigma around something that is so prevalent and common?
· Talk openly and unbiasedly about mental health, whether in personal conversations or on social media platforms.
· Educate yourself and others regarding misconceptions of mental health by sharing more accurate accounts of illnesses.
· Be conscious of language: “She has Bipolar Disorder” as opposed to “she’s Bipolar”. People are so much more than just their mental illness.
· Normalize treatment and equal care between physical and mental illnesses. You wouldn’t feel embarrassed about seeing a medical professional for a broken arm, right?
· Ask your workplace what services are offered for those with mental illnesses and make those services readily available and easily accessible.
· And above all, show compassion towards all people because you never know who may be experiencing a mental illness.
With May being Mental Health Awareness month, I encourage you to take active steps to normalize mental health treatment by making simple changes in your own life. If you would like to schedule an appointment with a mental health professional or a complimentary consultation, please check out zenlightenmentwellness.com or call (989) 388-1880. Comment down below or on our social media on Facebook or Instagram if you have any additional insight into mental health awareness!