In my last article (How to Fight Mental Health Stigma, part 1), I provided some suggestions on how to change the language we use when we talk about mental health conditions. In this second part, I talk about ways to fight stigma if you are living with a mental illness. I also share strategies you can use if you don’t live with a mental illness but still want to make a positive difference.
If you are a person with lived experience of mental illness, there are numerous ways you can stand up to stigma. Here are a few suggestions:
- Educate others: If you feel ready, you can share your personal story and struggles with mental illness around you. This can be done on social media or in person with people in your surrounding. If you over-hear a conversation about mental illness, you can use this as an opportunity to share your knowledge and experience. If someone is making disrespectful comments, you can gently express how it makes you feel and how it is important to stop this behaviour as it adds to the stigma.
- Encourage equality between physical and mental illness: When people realize that a mental illness is also a disease, just like cancer and diabetes, they are less inclined to make fun of someone living with a mental health condition.
- Be honest about your treatment: Don’t be afraid to say that you are seeing a therapist or a psychiatrist. People don’t fear being judged by saying they have an appointment with their family doctor. We can encourage the same openness with mental health support.
- Let the media know when they are being stigmatizing: If you watch a TV show that portrays a negative picture of people who have a mental illness, you can write a message to the broadcasting company or the show itself. The same strategy can be applied when you read stories on social media in which negative or ignorant comments about mental health are made.
- Don’t harbor self-stigma: As much as you can, be a productive member in your community by showing others that it is possible to live a meaningful life even when living with a mental illness.
If you are not living with mental health issues and want to fight stigma, here are a few suggestions for you to try:
- Educate yourself and others: learn about mental illness including substance use disorders and share your knowledge with people around you. You can pass on facts and challenge myths and stereotypes.
- Be aware of your attitudes, behaviour and the words you use when talking about mental illnesses. Examine judgemental thinking you may have coming from society or you upbringing.
- Support people: Offer support and encouragement to individuals struggling with mental health issues. Make it a point to treat everyone with dignity and respect.
- Focus on the positive: Pass on positive attitudes and focus on people’s strengths. Mental illness, including addictions, are only one part of someone’s life story or larger picture.
DO YOU NEED MORE HELP?
Contact a community organization like the Canadian Mental Health Association to learn more about support and resources in your area.
The information provided is not a substitute for professional advice. If you need advice, please consult a qualified health care professional. For further information or if you want to access our services at CMHA, please call 1-800-493-8271 or visit our web site at www.cmha-east.on.ca
If you are thinking of suicide, please call 1-833-456-4566 toll free in Canada or dial 911.