Archive for January 7, 2008
“Stigma assumes many forms, both subtle and overt. It appears as prejudice and discrimination, fear, distrust, and stereotyping. It prompts many people to avoid working, socializing, and living with people who have a mental disorder. Stigma impedes people from seeking help for fear the confidentiality of their diagnosis or treatment will be breached. For our Nation to reduce the burden of mental illness, to improve access to care, and to achieve urgently needed knowledge about the brain, mind and behavior, STIGMA must no longer be tolerated.”1
1. Learn more about mental illness
You need not read every study, book, blog or website about mental illness. All that is necessary is for you to research to the extent that you are better informed about what mental illness is and how it affects people’s lives. If you take the time to learn more about mental illness you will be better able to evaluate and resist the inaccurate negative stereotypes and see mentally ill individuals as humans and not some group of lepers to ridicule and/or shun.
2. Listen to people who have experienced mental illness firsthand
People who have suffered from mental illness know more about it than any other source. They can describe what they find stigmatizing, how stigma affects their lives and how they would like to be viewed and treated. Loved ones of mentally ill individuals are another good source to learn about mental illness and stigma. They see their loved ones shunned and ridiculed by soceity and in many instances it hurts them as much if not more than the people it is directed toward.
3. Watch your language
Most people, including mental health professionals and consumers, use terms and expressions related to mental illness that may perpetuate stigma. I have written an article about things not to say to someone with a mental illness. You can read it here.
4. Report and respond to stigmatizing material in the media
Protest such material by contacting the people–authors, editors, movie producers, advertisers–responsible for the material. You can write, call, or email stigmatizers in the media yourself, expressing your concerns and providing more accurate information that they can use or you can report the material to any number of organizations. I am a member of stigmabusters; which is a group sponsered by NAMI. You can find their site here. http://www.nami.org/template.cfm?section=about_stigmabusters
5. Befriend someone with a mental illness
Mentally ill individuals are often left alone to handle their illness. Everyone needs a support system.
6. Speak up about stigma
When someone you know misuses a psychiatric term (such as schizophrenia), let them know and educate them about the correct meaning. When someone disparages a person with mental illness, tells a joke that ridicules mental illness, or make disrespectful comments about mental illness, let them know that it is hurtful and that you find such comments offensive and unacceptable.
7. Talk openly about mental illness
Don’t be affraid to let others know of your mental illness or the mental illness of a loved one. The more mental illness remain hidden the more people continue to believe that it is a shameful thing to be concealed.
8. Demand change from your elected representatives
Policies that perpetuate stigma can be changed if enough people let their elected representatives know that they want such change.
9. Provide support for organizations that fight stigma
Join, volunteer, donate money. The influence and effectiveness of the organizations fighting mental illness stigma depend, to some extent, on membership size and finances. They also rely heavily on the effort and passion of their volunteer members. You can make a contribution through them.
10. Contribute to research related to mental illness and stigma
To the extent that mental illness can be understood and treated, stigma will be reduced. When we can be confident that mental illness can be treated quickly and effectively, it will be less frightening. When we know how stigma is perpetuated and better still, changed, we will be better able to assist those with mental illnesses to deal with it. Research will help us learn these things.
Telling is Risky Business: Mental Health Consumers Confront Stigma
By- Otto Wahl (Rutgers University Press)
- U.S. Surgeon General’s Report on Mental Health, 1999 [↩]