In the media, these days, there is a lot of information about the “M” word – mental illness. To some, this is a “crazy” (pun intended) and taboo term that is misunderstood. To others, this is the visibility that is needed to end the stigma attached to mental illness.
So what is stigma in mental health? Stigma takes two main forms: social and perceived. Social stigma comes from the prejudice that people with mental health conditions receive because of their diagnosis and perceived stigma comes from the shame that people with a disorder feel about themselves.
Luckily, stigma does not have to last forever. Times are changing and so should the way that mental health is addressed.
Here are some tips on how we can end the cycle of stigma and move forward to being more accepting and accommodating to those living with mental illness:
1) EMPOWER YOURSELF AND OTHERS:
Have you ever felt more motivated to do better when you were encouraged by someone? Using compassion and empathy with yourself or someone else when symptomatic can go a really long way in promoting wellness. Educating yourself or learning more about a certain disorder to help someone else can reinforce the idea that mental illness is not a death sentence.
2) SEEK THERAPEUTIC SERVICES:
Counseling is the perfect way to start changing negative narratives that go along with mental illness. Whether it be the things you say to yourself or to others, counseling can help individuals to start talking openly about mental health. Thus getting rid of the idea that it is something that should be kept a secret. Group therapy is another great way to get involved with other people who are having like experiences. It establishes something called “universality” which helps to create a sense of belonging when otherwise feeling alone or isolated from others. Finding a group of people who are working towards similar wellness goals can be a motivating factor for someone who is finding it difficult to get their life back on track after diagnosis.
3) DON’T USE MENTAL DISORDERS AS ADJECTIVES:
We’ve all done it from time to time and made statements like, “I can be really OCD sometimes” or “Stop being so bipolar”. However, this is one of the main reasons why stigmas continue to be held true to so many people. It is not only scientifically impossible to be a mental disorder (you can have a disorder; not be a disorder), but it takes away from the seriousness of what some people live with every day.
4) DIAGNOSIS IS NOT A LABEL:
One of the leading reasons why people do not share a diagnosis with friends and family is because of the label that might be attached to them. Worrying about being called something based on a diagnosis can be extremely demotivating and frustrating to someone who is pursuing their own wellness. Changing statements like, “He/She is a schizophrenic” to “He/She has a Schizophrenia diagnosis” automatically changes the tone and allows the person with this mental health condition to not be defined by their diagnosis.
Mental illness is not the end of the world! More often than not, people who are living with mental health conditions go on to live optimal lives once they decide to make that a priority for themselves. If you are living with a mental illness, it may take a while to settle into your new normal and that is ok. Be patient with yourself and take as much time as you need to get to a comfortable place. For those who are supporting someone who was recently diagnosed, it can be difficult at times, but your support might be the only thing that is keeping your loved one going, so don’t give up on them!
In Trinidad and Tobago, the Ministry of Health offers free psychiatric assessment and treatment through inpatient and outpatient programs for all citizens. For more information, visit the Ministry of Health website to find out how you can access these services.
Sherayne Welch is a therapist who holds a master’s degree in Mental Health Counseling. Her client demographic ranges from children to adults with any type of mental illness or Substance Use Disorder. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org