Mental Health Month has been observed in May in the United States since 1949, reaching millions of people through the media, local events, and screenings. Nearly 70 years after the first observance, however, we know that there is still reluctance to discuss the topic so the need to eliminate the stigma continues.
The stigma about mental health is toxic because it creates an environment of shame, fear and silence that keeps many people from seeking help and treatment. Stereotypical labels that are applied to mental illness are not just hurtful, they can have serious consequences. Individuals living with mental illness often internalize the stigma that exists in our culture. Some don’t seek treatment from a mental health professional and, too often, people take their own lives because they aren’t told that they’re not alone, they can recover and there is hope.
To help change attitudes, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is asking everyone to take the StigmaFree Pledge. Building a movement for change requires commitments from individuals, businesses, organizations, campuses, churches, etc. In other words, all of us.
Words matter when it comes to mental health. These small changes can make a big difference.
Stigma, the hidden burden of mental health conditions, can be as hard to deal with as the condition itself. It affects people’s well-being, prevents them from seeking treatment and damages self-esteem. The effects can last long after someone has engaged in recovery.
Everyone can play a role
- Use respectful language to talk about mental health conditions.
- Challenge misconceptions when you see or hear them.
- See the person, not the condition.
- Offer support if you think someone is having trouble.
Avoid labels such as the following:
- Normal/not normal
Use respectful language that does not define someone by an illness:
- She’s bipolar
- Manic depressive
- The mentally ill
- Committed suicide
- She has bipolar disorder/She’s living with bipolar disorder
- person with schizophrenia
- person with bipolar disorder
- people with a mental illness/mental health condition
- died by suicide