“Stigma”… To many it’s an ugly dirty word. To some it has become a label, one that is negatively portrayed by the media and Hollywood. It’s like a cancer that is growing out of control.
Decades ago, people didn’t talk about cancer, which might as well have been a four-letter word. But as people began to talk about it, good things started to happen: More research was funded, new diagnostic tests and treatments were developed, more people got screened (often earlier), more patients got the emotional support they needed and more lives were saved.
The same thing needs to be done with mental health! Let’s face it and call it out for what it is. Here is what I’ve seen…good things happen when shame is erased and people feel free to seek treatment. But the reality is that more research is needed. Finding and developing new assessments and treatments are vital, because early help is a key to minimizing the disruptive nature of mental illness. Everyone on this planet deserves to live a productive, fulfilling life. Because precious lives are at stake, those of our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, children and grandchildren, friends and neighbors. So it’s time to STOP the STIGMA that has attached itself like a leach to people suffering with mental health issues.
But wait, STIGMA is not only attached to people with mental health! Many people don’t experience stigma for just one reason. They may experience discrimination based on many different prejudices, like people with Aids, people suffering from eating disorders, sexual orientation, people with physical disabilities, people stuck in their addiction… the list goes on and on. And people who already face discrimination for any reason may be even less able to find help for mental health or substance use problems or less able to find services that meet their needs.
So how do we change it? How do we stop the negative momentum surrounding Stigma?
Well the first step is to have a willingness to listen, have an open mind, and to start the conversation and to stop labeling people.
Here are a few things that we can ALL do to Stop the Stigma.
Know the facts and educate yourself about mental health problems. Learn what the issues are instead of what the myth says.
Start being aware of your attitudes and behaviors; we’ve all grown up with prejudices and judgmental thinking. But we can change the way we think! See people as unique human beings, not as labels or stereotypes. See the person beyond their mental illness; they have many other personal attributes that do not disappear just because they also have a mental illness.
Choose your words carefully; It’s so important to know that the way we speak can affect the way other people think and speak. Don't use hurtful or derogatory language.
It’s so important to try and educate other people about Stigma; Find opportunities to pass on facts and positive attitudes about people with mental health problems. If your friends, family, co-workers or even the media present information that is not true, challenge their myths and stereotypes. Let them know how their negative words and incorrect descriptions affect people with mental health problems by keeping alive the false ideas.
We all need to start focusing on the positive and not the negative; People with mental health and substance use problems make valuable contributions to society. Their health problems are just one part of who they are. We’ve all heard the negative stories. Let’s recognize and applaud the positive ones.
Try to be supportive of people who are dealing with and trying very hard to change their lives; Treat people who have mental health problems with dignity and respect. Think about how you’d like others to act toward you if you were in the same situation. If you have family members, friends or co-workers with substance use or mental health problems, support their choices and encourage their efforts to get well.
Everyone needs to be included in the conversation; In Canada, it is against the law for employers and people who provide services to discriminate against people with mental health and substance use problems. Denying people access to things such as jobs, housing and health care, which the rest of us take for granted, violates human rights. People with mental health and substance use problems have a right to take an equal part in society. Let’s make sure that happens.
We need your help to change attitudes. We need your help to stop the stigma that stops people from seeking help. It’s time to STOP Stigma… It Only Grows in the DARK!
Thanks for stopping by… Luke