With campaigns like Bell Let’s Talk gaining attention and momentum, mental health awareness is increasing and the harms of mental health stigma are now better understood. People across Canada are taking the time to learn, grow, and understand how to support their families, friends and colleagues, and to be honest about their own stories and need for support.
But there’s more work to be done.
It can be difficult enough living with a mental illness, but when you face the added pressure of stigma – people just not understanding - it can make seeking help for your illness even more difficult. While society has come a long way, stigma is still very much prevalent, and many people still face negative responses when they express, share, or seek help for their mental health challenges.
Defining Stigma & It’s Effect
Stigma against mental illness has several roots, such as personal, social, and family beliefs and fears, and from the mental health condition itself, which may cause a person to act outside what is considered the social or cultural norm. Stigma involves the negative or discriminatory attitudes that others have about mental illness. Facing stigma from others can often also lead to self-stigma, when these negative attitudes get internalized, creating self-doubt and shame..
Stigma usually stems from a lack of understanding rather than information based on facts, and the consequences of stigma can be serious and devastating. The worst consequence is that it can make it less likely that people will seek treatment. For many, some conditions may worsen over time without treatment, so failing to seek help will ultimately worsens one’s outcomes. Stigma can also cause people to doubt themselves and their abilities to achieve their goals in life. It can also lead to feelings of isolation, which can ultimately make it harder for people to find desired jobs, build relationships, and live a fulfilling life.
What Can You Do?
While stigma continues to exist, it can be eliminated with education and awareness about mental health & illness. Here are some things you can do:
Educate Self. First thing is to remember that many people experience mental illness. If you have a mental illness, know that you are not alone. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, one in five Canadians struggle with mental illness of some kind. https://cmha.ca/brochure/fast-facts-about-mental-illness/
Talk about it: Have conversations that seek first to understand the lived experience of someone with mental health issues. Perhaps start with, “I’ve noticed that you are not quite yourself. Would you like to talk about it?” Ask questions about what it’s like for them and how you can best support them.
Be aware of your language: Words have meaning and reflect attitudes and beliefs. Be careful of the adjectives used to describe mental health. Be respectful in how you speak about individuals struggling with mental health issues.
Find support. Whatever you do, stay connected to others and get support. If you are a friend or family member, it’s ok to need support and to talk about how you feel. If you are dealing with mental health concerns yourself, you may be reluctant to share it with others, however, it is highly encouraged to not isolate yourself. Reach out to people you trust for compassion, support and the understanding you need during this time. Organizations such Bell – Let’s Talk Campaign, and Calltime Mental Health, offer educational and supportive resources for people and families who are affected by mental illness.
Access Services. There are many ways to seek help so that you can experience reduced symptoms and a better quality of life. Proper and timely treatment can provide relief by helping identify what’s wrong and reduce symptoms that may interfere with your everyday personal and work life.
Speak out. Educate others around you about the realities of mental illness including how common it is and actively speak out against stigma. Discredit myths about mental illness. Feel confident in sharing your own experiences. Sharing stories and encouraging dialog can help instill courage in others who may be facing similar challenges to get the right treatment at the right time.
Stigma is a complex issue that continues to have an impact, but there is hope, and change is happening. Everyone has a role in diffusing mental health stigma. Through research, education and understanding, we can eliminate the stigma around mental illness.