One of the ways mental health stigma is spread is through negative labels and name-calling those with a mental health condition. This can happen no matter where a person falls on the mental health spectrum, whether they have a manageable or severe mental illness, but in all cases, calling people with a mental illness names not a helpful solution to mental illness.
Stigma and Society's Perception of Mental Illness
One of the most pervasive stigmas of mental illness is the idea that people struggling with their mental health aren't trying hard enough to get better. There's this idea that those with similar, the same, or worse struggles have made it through a tough time so everyone else should be able to. But it's not that simple and people need to stop saying it is. People struggling with their mental health are trying to be well, and the struggle is harder than you think.
Fighting mental health stigma can be scary, especially knowing things will change once you stop being silent and start speaking out. The scariness might be because you live with a mental illness, so you'll be opening up to vulnerability. Or it could be because you'll be clashing head-on with stigma's titan-like reputation. Sometimes you're not even sure exactly how things will be different. So what changes when you begin fighting mental health stigma?
The idea that mental health costs us money as a society is factual, but this is not a useful strategy in reducing stigma. That said, there are a number of strategies used in the effort of reducing mental health stigma that do work. Within the advocacy community itself, I feel many, if not most, are spot on or on the right track. But doing a high-level look at some of the strategies used, it's time to rethink how we're going to slow the impact of mental health stigma.
We miss the signs of mental struggle others are going through because mental health stigma presents warped ideas of what mental illness and the people with it look like. If we're only looking for those that fit a certain mold when trying to pick out someone with mental illness, chances are we're going to miss those who are in a mental struggle.
Fiction is a great way to explore ourselves, the world around us, and our imaginations, but it also has the potential to spread mental illness myths. Not surprisingly, that includes myths about the people who live with mental illness. Unfortunately, the myths are more often than not harmful to people with mental illness in the real world.
Using ignorance as an excuse doesn't mean what someone said or did wasn't stigmatizing toward mental health or, more specifically, mental illness. Why? Because stigma isn't about intent. Stigma is the negative ideas and misconceptions of mental illness, whether intended or not. Ignorance only determines whether you're mistakenly stigmatizing mental health or doing it on purpose. But stigma is stigma, whether you know any better or not.
I tell my mental illness story with tattoos because they both tell stories and help us tell our stories. Those stories can be about anything, and countless people have gotten their skin permanently marked with representations of their journeys with mental illness, myself included. My tattoos give me the opportunity to share my mental illness story and talk about mental health in general. Most conversations are positive, but as with most things mental illness-related, stigma is never too far off.
I'm guilty of discounting simple remedies for mental illness. I would always see something like changing a sleep pattern as simple in comparison to the complex nature of mental illness. I couldn't understand how one could truly make a difference on the other and saw people suggesting that it could as a gross misunderstanding of mental illness and ultimately a perpetuation of stigma. But sometimes the simple solutions are the ones we need to alleviate the symptoms and improve mental wellbeing, which is what I learned recently when I realized how much sleep affects my mental health.