How to Deal With Mental Health Stigma
Friday, April 3 2015 Andrea Paquette
Dealing with mental health stigma is a challenging and daunting task at times, and it may push us to our limits on a number of fronts. Not only do we often feel negatively about facing mental illness and self-stigma, but we have to deal with the stigma out there, which often hurts us emotionally and makes life all that more difficult to tackle. As we face the everyday, there are ways to deal with mental health stigma, whether it be from friends, family, society, or the media.
Dealing with Mental Health Stigma on Many Fronts
I still cringe when I hear the word crazy. It is everywhere, just pouring out of people’s mouths at every turn. Whether they are referring to an ex-boyfriend, an emotional woman, a child having a tantrum, or a wild night out at the club – it is expressed as crazy, and frankly, I call it perpetuating mental health stigma. I have even heard people who have mental illness call themselves crazy, and I constantly ponder the stigma that is induced when we apply this type of language to express what really is a word that I feel ought to be abolished.
As we are bombarded by the media, as we hear about suicide plane crashes, shootings, I always wait for them to say the word mental illness. Is the media perpetuating stigma by luring this aspect into their coverage, or is it bringing attention to the fact that we are not properly accommodating and treating people with mental illness? It always seems that the media are searching for the mental illness factor, and people are left to think "Yep, that person is crazy." I am by no means defending anyone who is criminal, but the media's sensationalism of mental illness does get me down.
Even your friends and family may induce mental health stigma, constantly prodding and asking if you are feeling okay, and did you take your meds because you are not chipper enough for their liking. This will often leave you to question yourself, doubt your choices and even your mental wellbeing.
How to Deal with Mental Health Stigma in the World
It is difficult to offer advice on how to deal with mental health stigma because we are all so unique and possess varying personalities that cause us to be either outspoken, or remain in the background. I can only offer tips on dealing with mental health stigma from my own experience and the following is a list that I practice in my life:
- Call people out. For instance, I do this on Facebook when I see a stigmatizing bipolar quiz that is perpetuating stigma on the Internet, or I often write something thoughtful in response to people who post ignorant and stigmatizing messages.
- I deal with mental health stigma in person. It gives me a chance to practice my diplomatic skills and I am not shy to let someone know they are out of line.
- I am cognizant of my language. I aim not to call people retarded, or use to word gay in a derogatory manner. I certainly do not use the word crazy, but I have been guilty of it at times; however, I reel the words back into my mouth with a follow-up about how insensitive that word really is. If you pay full attention to the world around you, I guarantee you will hear the word crazy at least once during your day.
- I write letters to the editor and utilize the media to get my own message. The media is relentless and often insensitive when it comes to covering stories about people with mental illness, so expressing that the best way to deal with mental health stigma is to simply stomp it out.
- I do not take it personally. There are plenty of misconceptions about mental illness out there that can make dealing with mental health stigma extremely difficult, but it is not about you, personally. I consider that every stigma battle is not my own, so if you do want to deal with a stigmatizing situation, it is best to pick and choose carefully what fight you choose to wage.
You will face mental health stigma in your life, but how you choose to deal with it is up to you. I do not anticipate that everyone will want to make their voice heard because of the fear of the stigma that they may bring upon themselves; however, without people dealing with mental health stigma at the forefront, how will we ever truly bring forward the voices of those that fear speaking for themselves?