Doing Away with Stigma
Walking through a grocery store recently, I took my cart down an aisle in search of sweetener. i'd been to this store several times, but it was apparent someone had decided it was time to rearrange everything. My usual spot was no longer the right one.
Anyway, as I made my way down the new sweetener aisle where I could find what I was looking for, I passed a couple of people engaged in conversation. It was clear they were discussing someone they both knew. Just as I passed by, I heard a comment that struck me as odd.
"You know, she's been psycho for years," one of them said. "I think she was in that mental hospital down in Cincinnati. Her family just doesn't know what else to do."
Maybe they realized they'd been a little louder than they thought, because they looked at me and my look of surprise and, perhaps, disappointment, and moved on.
That whole episode told me we've got a long way to go when it comes to mental health stigma. Groups like NAMI and Mental Health America have been fighting it for years. MHRS has also worked locally, taking the message that mental illness isn't a dirty phrase to schools, community groups, and more.
But it's clear we all can do so much more - and we at MHRS are going to do out part to help the community. Soon we will be launching a new Speakers' Bureau to talk with community groups, neighborhood associations, congregations at places of worship, and more about what's happening in mental health care locally. We'll also talk about what stigma means and how to avoid it.
Until then, there's plenty you can do to help us out. Here are just a few:
- Talk about it. If you know someone who's been diagnosed with anxiety or depression, speak up and let people know what it's like for that person - and for you, too, as a supporter.
- Be conscious of the words you use. Language matters. Some people get used to using mental health conditions as adjectives to describe mental illness, like the people at the store using the word "psycho". Those terms don't help.
- Educate yourself and others. Find information about mental health issues and learn how people living with a mental illness might feel.
- Let media know when they stigmatize mental illness. If you see a show that includes making fun of a mental illness or one with a problem story line, write or call them and let them know.
There are lots of things you can do to help break the cycle of stigma in our community and beyond. Give us a call or visit our website for helpful resources. Breaking that cycle starts with all of us!