Living with a mental health illness can be challenging. Add to that having to deal with the misconceptions, stereotypical ideas and blatantly outrageous beliefs that many people in society hold about mental health, and one can be left feeling overwhelmed and rejected.
Common mental health preconceptions include; “If you have schizophrenia you must be violent and dangerous.” “Why do you have happy days when you’re suffering with depression? Shouldn’t you always be depressed?” and perhaps the classic; “Oh just get over it, it’s all in your head anyway!”
Preconceptions like these are called mental health stigma and unless society as a whole stand up and challenge these ideas and beliefs, mental health stigma will continue to shame people living with a mental health illness and perpetuate a misunderstanding over the broader concept of mental health.
Following is a list of seven ways you can fight mental health stigma:
- Join a support group
Support groups abound in this day and age and there are plenty of good support groups out there for people with mental health issues. Large organisations, such as Mind often run online support groups, and your local newspapers are a good source to locate support groups. Support groups are often chaired by people who have either lived with a mental health issues, or are experienced and qualified to support you.
- Take comfort in friends and family
One of the most insidious aspects of mental health stigma is its ability to undermine, belittle and create doubt in the minds and hearts of those on the other end of hurtful misconceptions. After being misconstrued as ‘crazy’ or ‘it’s all in your head’, there is no better way to fortify yourself than by taking comfort in family and friends; people who really know what your mental health illness is all about.
- Talk to your therapist
Therapists are not only invaluable to help you deal with your mental health illness, but are a wonderful sounding board to discuss any mental health stigma that you may have been exposed to. Not only will they have an armload of tricks and tips to help get you through, the therapy itself promotes the legitimacy of mental health as a medical and social issue widespread in society.
- Practice Positive Self-Talk and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Techniques
Mental health stigma has the potential to leave the person being stigmatised vulnerable to self-doubt and insecurity. Behavioural interventions such as positive self-talk and cognitive behavioural therapy help people to recognise and challenge damaging negative talk and unhelpful patterns or beliefs. By using these techniques you are empowered to acknowledge then challenge these beliefs instead of simply internalising them.
- Stay connected
After a hurtful experience where mental health stigma has made you feel inferior or ashamed, a natural inclination may be to retreat; to hide from the world which has so callously rejected you. Resist! Don’t slink into the shadows where your mental health illness can manifest and brood, go out amongst people, show yourself off, say “I am here and I don’t care what you think!” And try to find as many like-minded friends to join you. Unite and stay connected.
- Start a blog and educate people
Linking in with the previous tip, you can fight mental health stigma by staying connected while also educating society on some of the truths of mental health illness. It’s one thing for myths and preconceptions to be tossed around, but why can’t the truth? If you’re courageous enough, start a blog and share your story with a little tongue-in-cheek humour like Mindfump.com.
- Zero Tolerance policy
The final tip you can employ to join in the fight against mental health stigma is to adopt a zero tolerance policy. Hear someone saying something about anxiety that you know is untrue? Challenge them! Read something misleading about borderline personality disorder? Write to the editor! Take up the zero tolerance policy attitude and stand up for mental health awareness.
Article by Raunak Karim.