5 Easy Ways to Reduce Mental Illness Stigma


Tune into any conversation about mental illness and addiction, and it won’t be very long until you hear the term “stigma.” Stigma has various definitions, but they all refer to negative attitudes, beliefs, descriptions, language or behavior. In other words, any disrespectful, unfair or discriminatory patterns in how we think, feel, talk and behave toward individuals experiencing a mental illness.

But it doesn’t take much effort to reduce stigma in your own backyard. In fact, the rules of the road are quite simple. Here are five simple steps you can follow to become a stigma fighter:

1) Don’t label people who have a mental illness.

Don’t say, “He’s bipolar” or “She’s schizophrenic.” People are people, not diagnoses. Instead, say, “He has bipolar disorder” or “She has schizophrenia.” And say “has a mental illness” instead of “is mentally ill.” All of this is known as “person-first” language, and it’s far more respectful, for it recognizes that the illness doesn’t define the person.

2) Don’t be afraid of people with mental illness.

Sure, they may sometimes display unusual behaviors when their illness is more severe, but people with mental illness aren’t necessarily more likely to be violent than the general population. In fact, they are more likely to be victims of violence. Don’t fall prey to other inaccurate stereotypes, such as the deranged killer or the weird coworker depicted in the movies.

3) Don’t use disrespectful terms for people with mental illness.

In a research study, when British 14-year-olds were asked to come up with over 250 terms to describe mental illness, the majority were negative. These terms, like “psycho” and “crazy,” are far too common in our everyday conversations. Also, be careful about using “diagnostic” terms to describe behavior, like “that’s my OCD” or “she’s so borderline.” Given that 1 in 4 adults experience a mental illness, it’s likely you may be offending someone and not be aware of it.

4) Don’t blame people with mental illness for their mental illnesses.

It would be silly to tell someone just to “buckle down” and “get over” cancer, and the same applies to mental illness. Don’t assume that someone is OK just because they look or act OK or sometimes smile or laugh. Depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses can often be hidden, but the person can still be in considerable internal distress. Provide support and reassurance when you know someone is having difficulty managing their illness.

5) Be a role model.

Stigma is often fueled by lack of awareness and inaccurate information. Model these stigma-reducing strategies through your own comments and behavior and politely teach them to your friends, family, coworkers and others in your sphere of influence. Spread the word that treatment works and recovery is possible. Changing attitudes takes time, but repetition is the key, so keep getting the word out to bring about a positive shift in how we treat others.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton said it nicely: “Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all.” Take the next step. Adopt these simple tools and you can help move the needle in the direction of getting rid of stigma once and for all.

A version of this post originally appeared on David Susman’s site.

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What I Want the Person I Date to Know About My Mental Illnesses


Dating with a mental illness shouldn’t have to be difficult. But it can be. Dating with any illness is a challenge, but illnesses that target emotions and energy levels more directly make relationships hard. For me, the hardest thing is knowing when to disclose my mental illnesses. I have a knee-jerk reaction to disclose quite quickly simply to clear the air and discover the other person’s trustworthiness.

At the same time, this poses a risk of the person seeing me as diseased, faulty or misshapen somehow. To me, it is normal. Through studying nursing and my life experiences, everyone has some health issue or another that they, at the very least, have to be cognizant about. For some people, it’s high blood pressure and bad cholesterol. For me, it’s mental illness and “my mother’s hips.”

I believe there’s a reason “in sickness and in health” is mentioned in wedding vows. It’s likely that at some point in our lives, we will encounter health problems. Mine, like many people with mental illnesses, started young. But so what? So do asthma, allergies and congenital conditions.

Perhaps I have become more accustomed to having mental illnesses because, at 26, I have already battled them for 20 years. To me, when I disclose my health issues to a potential mate or otherwise, it is the same thing as saying, “Just want you to know, in case I get stung by a bee, my epi-pen is in my backpack.”

That’s really all it should be, at least when starting to date someone. As you get to know each other, you get to know what is helpful and what isn’t for the other person. Isn’t that like any relationship?

young couple on romantic date
Photo source: Thinkstock Images

If I’m angry, don’t touch me. If I’m sad, leave me alone. If I’m crying, give me a hug. If I’m anxious, reiterate positive qualities about me. Everyone is different, and it takes time to know the details. It’s the same as knowing whether your partner likes mushrooms on pizza or not.

Relationships take work. Some people with mental illness are unwilling to work at themselves and their relationship. So are people without mental illness! The important thing is to not write off a potential relationship because of what your past experience with that person’s condition has been. Be willing to learn.

At the moment, I am single. I’m OK with that. When I do meet someone, I’d like them to recognize me, not my illnesses. I’d like them to ask questions! I’d much rather you ask than make things worse for me. I’d like a partner to treat me as an equal. Of course, we’ll be different, but just because I struggle doesn’t absolve me of responsibility in the relationship. When I’m not doing so hot, I’d like them to respect that it is a big deal I am still around, and to know when I need to speak with a professional. I’d like them to know it is never OK to feel bad about my need to reach out for help from an uninvolved person.

Most of all, I’d like this person to know I am more than capable of being a loving individual and life partner, and my mental illnesses, if anything, improve that ability.

The Mighty wants to read more about your experiences dating with a mental illness. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to community@themighty.com. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.

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I Experienced a Type of Depression I Didn’t Know Existed


We’d talked about a third child. I missed – and deeply mourned – the lack of a tiny body snuggling into my shoulder or pacifiers crammed into the silverware tray in the dishwasher. I cuddled friends’ babies close, wishing those small beings were mine to love. But babyhood was behind me. I was working part-time, making some spending money and learning about book publishing. Neither my personal nor professional life could get any better.

Still, I couldn’t shake the feeling I was missing something. Actually, someone. Our third child. The one I wasn’t holding in my arms late at night while the rest of the family slept around us.

What I didn’t think about was how much harder a third pregnancy would be eight years after my first. I learned something important during those early weeks of that pregnancy — symptoms weren’t as awful as the fear of loss. Of child, of self, of sanity.

I was slowly losing all three. I also lost my connection to my husband and my children. I knew it and had no idea how to fix any of it. Each day, getting out of bed was harder. Some days I didn’t.

My oldest daughter sat next to me as I huddled in my bed, her eyes murky with fear. She asked if I was going to die.

“No,” I said automatically, shocked. The truth was, I’d never felt worse. I tried not to be nauseated or tired or dehydrated. But I couldn’t stop the encroaching fear that I was losing everyone I loved because I’d chosen to have another child.

I finally asked the right question — Not why I had so many symptoms, but why I couldn’t roll with them as I normally did. And then I found the answer: According to The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), “between 14-23 percent of women will struggle with some symptoms of depression in pregnancy.” Nearly one in four women struggle with depression during pregnancy.

I’d never heard of the condition, and I wondered… If I hadn’t heard of it, how many other women were suffering needlessly because they hadn’t heard of it either?

I wasn’t unhappy about having a baby. I was miserable because of the pregnancy. I saw this as a clear distinction no one else seemed able to grasp. After failing to explain my feelings once again, my husband, Chris, and I decided to see a licensed counselor.

Counseling wasn’t part of our budget — I mentioned we have two other active (read: expensive) kids, right? – but our need was overwhelming. We’d become strangers, managing to slink past one another, unable to make eye contact, to talk, to sleep next to each other, to breathe the same air.

We went to months of bimonthly visits, some resulting in nothing more than shredded tissues. Others brought about small breakthroughs. Chris realized he couldn’t will me to wellness. We both worried the intrinsic me would once again be stifled under the weight of infant needs and the ever-present mound of laundry.

Eventually, I labored those necessary, intense hours to bring our baby girl into the world. She was tiny. Her limbs were so thin, the newborn diaper gaped around the edges.

But our worst fears — the ones we’d struggled to articulate even in counseling, the reason we were in counseling — hadn’t been realized. Our daughter was healthy. She was barely 18 inches long. She barely weighed 6 pounds. She was perfect. She snuggled into me, burrowing close and offering the comfort I needed.

Chris picked up my free hand, both of us exhausted and euphoric. I stared at our fingers, reveling in this new connection we’d fought for. I reveled in the child we’d both struggled to birth through a depression I hadn’t realized existed.

And I realized, once again, I was blessed with an incredible partner. One who helped me find a path when all I saw were pitfalls.


I Am 'That' Parent


This post is inspired by a viral post titled, “Dear Parent: About THAT Kid” by an educator in Calgary, Alberta. It’s a powerful post, and I encourage you to read it. While I was reading the post, I thought about how easy it is to assume instead of be curious. I thought about the label “that” and how we become fearful of this – we don’t want to be known as “that” parent so we stay quiet. I think it’s time to be more curious about “that.” This post is dedicated to all the parents out there who are “that” parent.

I am that parent.

Dear professionals: You know me. I am the one who asks questions. The one who seems like she’s always asking for information. The one who makes suggestions on the IEP or seems to go on and on and on about the concerns she has about her son. The one who will turn a 15-minute scheduled meeting into 45 minutes. The one who doesn’t hesitate to let you know when things are not going well for her child. The one who can get emotional and (unintentionally) make everyone feel yucky. The one who requests documentation and wants to look at her child’s file. The one who says she wants goals to be more specific. The one who just doesn’t seem to go away and leave you alone to do your job. The one who keeps her own file.

Dear other parents: You know me. I am the one who always looks a bit off in the morning. The one who is pleading with her child to enter the school. The one who stands off to the side and appears to be waiting for something to happen. The one who doesn’t get her child to apologize right away when he’s done something wrong. The one who picks her child up early from school and doesn’t seem to get involved in anything. The one who can’t seem to get her child to behave like all the other kids. The one who doesn’t parent her child the way you do.

I would love to tell you — I wasn’t always that parent.

I would love to tell you about how when our child first started school I trusted and believed he would be OK, even though we knew he was just a little bit different than the other kids.

I would love to tell you how many times we were told to just leave things up to the school staff and our son would be fine.

I would love to tell you about the time when I became concerned about things that were happening for our son, concerned enough to book an appointment with a pediatrician. I would love to tell you that he saw us for 15 minutes, made a snap diagnosis and told me to put our son on medication.

I would love to tell you about the time we saw a counsellor for one hour, who told us our son had a different diagnosis and we needed to find him a special school.

I would love to tell you about the looks of confusion, pity and sometimes even derision that have been cast my way on the playground. I would love to tell you about the times I stood alone outside the school waiting for my son, with no one approaching me.

I would love to tell you about the time I had to console my son because he finally realized everyone else in his class was getting invited to birthday parties, except for him.

I would love to tell you that when my son doesn’t apologize right away, it’s because he can’t. I would love to tell you that the way his brain works takes longer than others’, and if I were to force him to apologize, it wouldn’t go well. I would love to tell you to be patient and to just allow him some time to figure it out. I would love to tell you that if you do this, he will apologize in the most sincere way.

I would love to tell you about the time I provided a teacher with a letter that highlighted my son’s strengths, challenges and how to best approach these, only to be told “I prefer to find things out for myself.”

I would love to tell you about the time my son sat in the hallway all day because he refused to complete a writing assignment at the beginning of the day, even though his IEP clearly stated he was to be presented with a distracting activity when he gets stuck.

I would love to tell you about the notes that would come home in my son’s planner detailing the negative events of the day or about the time I sat in a parent/teacher interview and was told “all” the other parents in the class have said my son is a bully.

I would love to tell you about trying to figure out what services might be available to support our child and our family. I would love to tell you about finding out about a certain resource and feeling hopeful, only to placed on a wait list for at least six months.

I would love to tell you about how I became detached from any and all school activity because it didn’t matter what I said or did; it impacted my son and likely gave me an ulcer. I didn’t want to become known as that parent.

I would love to tell you about the time a psychiatrist saw us for 15 minutes and determined our son should no longer qualify for a public assessment and then followed up with a letter saying we had provided non-specific information to support our concerns because apparently ten pages of documented observations are considered non-specific.

I would love to tell you about the time my son was in desperate need of connection to a medical professional. I would love to tell you about the ways we were handed off from one service system to another, no one wanting to provide the recommended support.

I would love to tell you about the time we were trying to get some support and were told to call a ministry agency we clearly didn’t meet the mandate for. And yet, we were still required to do this.

I would love to tell you about sitting in meetings and hearing about all the bad things our son was doing. I would love to tell you about all the times we’ve been made to feel that our parenting was the reason our son was the way he was. I would love to tell you about the time I was a fly on the wall and overheard some brutal comments about my child.

I would love to tell you about all the times we were told our son simply couldn’t handle a full day of school and that we needed to pick him up early. I would love to tell you that this meant I needed to give up my employment because I was unable to fulfill my obligations. I would love to tell you that even though we did this, we didn’t receive any support from any organization for the time our son should have been in school.

I would love to tell you about how year after year, we have to explain our son to new people because it seems like the information doesn’t go forward to the next grade in a timely way.

I would love to tell you about all the services and supports we’ve tried to access for our child over the years, how much we’ve paid for these and what we’ve found to be most useful.

I would love to tell you about how some mornings when I’m walking my dog, I reflect on all of this and realize how easy it is to isolate myself from this world that sometimes does not understand.

But most of all…

I would love to tell you that I’m proud of my son and his courage in facing each day.

I would love to tell you how I am proud of myself for becoming more knowledgeable about the challenges my child faces, learning about the systems we access for support, learning the jargon so I don’t feel dumb sitting at the meeting table when an acronym is used.

I would love to tell you about the people who have come into our lives on our journey who have believed in us and given us hope. I would love to tell you about the one time we were asked the question “Where would you like to see your child when he is an adult, and what can we do to help get him there?” I would love to tell you about the time I broke down in tears in a meeting because my child’s grade-six teacher said she loved having him in her class, that he was polite and respectful. I would love to tell you that was the first time anyone had ever said that to us in a meeting.

I would love to tell you that I don’t want to be that parent, but then I would not be telling you the truth. I am thankful I am that parent. I would love to tell you how thankful I am to have discovered my voice, that I have become aware of my rights as a parent in these systems, and that I am not afraid to let this be known. I would love to tell you that despite all the challenges we’ve experienced, I continue to have faith and hope for my family; I believe we will be OK. I would love to tell you that I would much rather be that parent than stay silent and let things happen as they may.

I would love to tell you all this.

But you rarely ask.

If you happen to decide you would like to, I would love to tell you our story.

This post originally appeared on Champions for Community Mental Wellness.


This Mental Illness Meme Was Supposed to Be Funny. Here's Why It's Not.


I was skimming through my Facebook newsfeed when this gem jumped out at me.

ableist meme
Eight years ago, I may not have batted an eye at it. Today, well, it made me furious. When you have a son who lives with a mental illness, this kind of meme isn’t funny. It’s debilitating. It further stereotypes mental disorders, those living with them and the hard work parents and providers are doing to stop these stereotypes.

Did you know this is also known as “ableism”? What is that, you ask? Let me tell you. Ableism is a form of discrimination against people with disabilities.

Let me give you some examples of words that further stereotype people like my son:






Short Bus







Need I go on?

Bottom line, whether you’re the parent, relative or someone with a mental disorder, using this type of language hurts people. It’s the same as calling someone “fat” or “ugly” or whatever term you use to berate them.

There are people and children in this world living with mental disorders. They are people. With feelings. Stop making fun of them with this type of language. Stop using it to get “likes” on Facebook. Stop hurting other people.

Our world is what we make of it. Let’s make it a better place for everyone.

OK, rant over.

The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a meme, image or sign you’ve seen shared online that struck a chord with you, for good or for bad. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to community@themighty.com. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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Why I'm Finally Talking About the Hardest Thing I Ever Had to Do in College


My freshman year, I co-founded and led a student organization. Sophomore year, I wrote a column for our student paper, The Daily Orange. I’ve held various editing positions at a student-run magazine. My grades are OK. My social life is great.

Last semester, I started going to the counseling center.

I separate that sentence for dramatic emphasis not because I consider it different or less than everything else I’ve accomplished at Syracuse University. In fact, it may have been the hardest thing I’ve done.

I’m nervous to tell you all about this for a couple of reasons.

The first reason, ironically, relates to why I needed counseling in the first place. I didn’t think I deserved it. I was never anxious “enough.” Never depressed “enough.” Never sure what qualified as “panicky” and what qualified as a panic attack. There was this weird satisfaction that came with toughening it out, quantifying my mental state and measuring it up to others’. I’m able to do this, so therefore I don’t need help. I thought this, but didn’t do this, so therefore this isn’t bad enough. In a sick way it made me feel martyr-like — like suffering in silence was a reflection of strength. Every tragedy I was spared from was a reason I didn’t deserve help. Every tragedy I experienced was deeply internalized, saved for later.

And I wasn’t happy. First it was for a few days. Then it was for a few weeks. Then I was so good at faking it, so good at functioning, burying myself in work, putting off emotionally dealing with a breakup, putting off emotionally dealing with family issues, that it was too much.

Eventually, a friend I had opened up to physically dragged me to the counseling center. He talked me through the initial phone call. Walked me through the front door. Waited with me until my name was called. I nervously clawed at his shoes, refused to seriously fill out any forms, until finally I was in and started talking and couldn’t stop.

Getting an hour of time every week to not work on working but to work on myself was freeing. It didn’t make my problems go away but instead let them exist in a space that wasn’t my chest. It verified that what I was feeling was legitimate. That I was allowed to have feelings and allowed to feel pain.

I’m nervous to tell you about this because I don’t want to appear weak. I don’t want you to think I’m being dramatic. I’m afraid you’ll follow the same line of thinking as I do: There’s always someone worse. You just want to complain. There’s always someone worse off. You’re lucky, you’re so, so lucky.

I am lucky. There are people who have it worse. But something I’ve had to learn is that being privileged and needing help aren’t mutually exclusive elements in my life. Just because I’m blessed in many, many ways doesn’t mean that I have to accept an unhappy head.

I stopped going to counseling this semester, but there are moments when I wish I had kept my appointment. I’m having a hard time getting myself back there, but I know it’s an option — that it exists if I need it. Next time I go, though, I don’t want to tell my roommates I’m going to the gym. I don’t want to talk about mental health as an advocate while ignoring my own.

If you need it — even if you want to try it — you deserve this kind of help, too. In college, there’s a culture of acceptance around being sleep-deprived, stressed and unhappy. There’s a misconception that asking for help is a form of surrendering, proof that you can’t handle a fast-paced world. In fact, it’s the opposite —it’s a form of taking control. For me, it was harder to be honest with friends about how I was feeling. It was harder to admit I needed some help, but I feel a little healthier because of it. Although it’s not for everyone, the counseling center is on campus for a reason.

Is the counseling center on your campus working for you? Are there things you want to change? Because if we continue to hide our struggles from each other we will never receive the mental health care we deserve. There’s no way to make progress within ourselves and on a college campus if we’re all too afraid to speak up.

This post originally appeared on Syracuse University’s Active Minds blog.

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