Breaking the Social Stigma Attached to Mental Health
Author Rebecca Li
As the month of May comes to an end, it is appropriate to reflect on its significance as Mental Health Awareness Month.
As reported by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, “approximately 1 in 5 youth aged 13–18 (21.4%) experience a severe mental disorder at some point during their life.” Despite the prevalence of mental health problems today, there is still a heavy social stigma surrounding it.
For many, having a mental illness is seen as an indication of weakness or vulnerability. Some believe that the sufferer is at fault or is in control of his or her affliction. However, these are misconceptions, resulting from a society that silences the discussion about mental health. By avoiding the topic of mental health, the public reinforces a culture that socially marginalizes those suffering with a mental illness.
Thoughts, fears, and aspirations define who people are, and when these qualities are disturbed, they challenge one’s sense of identity. It takes a community of empathy and understanding to help those dealing with mental health issues to realize that they are not defined by their mental illness.
Although the signs of mental illness may not be as obvious as those of a physical illness, it is just as crucial for those suffering to seek treatment and support. The United States Census estimates that 57.7 million Americans suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder, yet 40 percent of those individuals go untreated annually. With an astounding percent of sufferers afraid to seek help, fighting the stigma attached to mental illnesses is more important than ever.
Here are some action steps you can take to break the stigma against mental illnesses:
1.Start the conversion - Talk about mental health openly within your community. Open up about your struggle with mental health, or listen to those who reach out for your help.
2. Show empathy and compassion to those suffering from a mental health problem - Offer your unconditional support to those you care about and encourage help-seeking behavior.
3. Be aware of how your words impact other people - eliminate the casual usage of words like “OCD” and “bipolar.” Saying so delegitimizes the very real experiences of people who struggle with these mental illnesses.
There is still much work left to be done to dissipate the cloud of stigma hanging above mental health. However, making small changes are steps in the right direction.