Mental Health Awareness Weeks Are Important to Combat Stigma
Awareness weeks for mental health are critical. The sheer mention of an awareness week of any sort may already have you groaning. I know I’ve heard and seen comments from people complaining about how there’s an awareness week for everything. That could be true, but they’re a vital part of the dissemination of information and breaking down stigmas associated with whatever cause they’re for. For causes such as mental illness awareness, awareness weeks are an especially poignant way to demystify what mental illnesses are and are not.
Mental Health Awareness Weeks Encourage Everyone to Talk
I’m not going to lie, a big part of why I’m writing this is because it’s body-focused repetitive behavior (BFRB) awareness week (October 1st to 7th). While myself and many others in the BFRB community share information and our stories about life with excoriation (skin-picking) disorder, trichotillomania, or any other BFRB on a regular basis, mental health awareness week gives us a chance to make a concentrated effort.
Concentrated efforts tend to garner attention, which is a big plus. When we share about mental health issues in spurts, much of the time you only come across the information if you’re looking for it or by accident. Even if posts don’t go viral, it’s still likely more people will see the multitude of posts, meaning more and accurate information gets out into the world, a key part of chipping away at stigma (Stand Up For Mental Health Campaign).
It also creates a strength in numbers sort of scenario in which others who may have previously been silent about their disorders can come forward. It always amazes me how many people suddenly feel comfortable enough to take the plunge since a large number of others are doing so all at once. The fear of stigma has somehow become smaller or perhaps more bearable during mental health awareness weeks.
I think that’s a reflection of how we’d like things to be in the future. We would like for everyone to be able to talk about what they’re going through without having to worry about what kind of negative backlash they are going to get.
Mental Health Awareness Weeks Help People Realize They’re Not Alone
Even if someone doesn’t use an awareness week as a confessional, it’s an opportunity to share about whatever the topic is. It opens the door for conversation and even creates a ripple effect of people learning about something they may not have known before.
In the case of BFRBs, it often equates to someone realizing for the first time that what he’s going through has a name. That, in turn, can help ease the self-stigma that he might feel because he could realize that he’s not a freak, but rather someone with an illness. And if the shared information is well done, it will also give that person resources to turn to.
Mental Health Awareness Weeks' Conversations Prove We Still Need Them
All of this goes for all kinds of mental illness and other awareness weeks. So while it might be annoying or overwhelming to some to see day after day, week after week, or month after month dedicated to something, it just means that we still have so many things we need to discuss honestly and accurately. And one of the best ways to do that is as a team with other people who are going through the same thing because we can support and encourage each other.
So if you are one of those people who gets annoyed by awareness weeks, please try to remember that we’re just trying to have these conversations because we feel there are still too many misconceptions and too much stigma out there. Best case scenario is the majority of general knowledge would be accurate and non-stigmatizing so we wouldn’t need to have these conversations anymore. But until that day comes, we’re going to keep talking and keep having mental health awareness weeks.
Barton, L. (2017, October 2). Mental Health Awareness Weeks Are Important to Combat Stigma, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, June 19 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/survivingmentalhealthstigma/2017/10/mental-health-awareness-weeks-are-important-to-combat-stigma