16 Ways Life Would Change in a World Without Mental Illness Stigma

Mental illness stigma manifests in many different ways for the 1 in 5 people who live with a mental health condition. Some keep what they’re going through to themselves while others struggle to convince others they need help. But how would your life change in a world free of mental health stigma? This is the question we asked our readers during Mental Illness Awareness Week in honor of this year’s theme: #IAmStigmaFree.

Here’s a glimpse into what a stigma-free world might look like for those who live with mental illness: 

1. “I would be able to ask for help more without feeling ashamed or like less of a person. Without fear of what people are really thinking about me. Without fear of people turning away.” — Mary Mahorney

2. “I wouldn’t have to choose between honesty and courtesy when people ask me how I’m feeling.” — Irina Greenman 

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3. “I could talk about my family members’ mental illness to my friends and colleagues without shame or judgment.” — Dawn M. Werlinger

4. “I wouldn’t have to be secretive about my therapy and psycholgist appointments or make up fake illnesses when I call in sick.” — Sara Cahill Camps

5. “It wouldn’t have taken over 10 years to be diagnosed with my physical illness. Almost every doctor dismissed my complaints as soon as they saw I was diagnosed with bipolar 2 with anxiety.” — Cynthia Rhodes Alberson

6. “I’d no longer be as scared to ask for help from those around me.” — Rochelle Ashcroft

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7. “I wouldn’t cringe every time someone claims to be ‘OCD’ about something.” — Hailey Remigio

8. “I’d be more open to discussing what it feels like to be in my brain instead of trying to keep it under control.” — Lauren Celeskey Bednarz 

9. “I wouldn’t have spent years in hiding.” — Ella Dick

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10. “I would be able to actually tell my professors and employers what’s wrong instead of lying every time.” — Calliope Krystal Pia Kilpeläinen

11. “I would be able to share my struggle with OCD and agoraphobia without being told I’m ‘crazy.’” — Erica Enos

12. “Mental health treatment might have equal insurance coverage.”  — Katie DeMore

13. “I would feel OK telling people why I was going to the counseling center at my college. I wouldn’t have to lie about the medicine I take. I wouldn’t feel like a fish out of water in my own skin every day.” — Kathleen McKenna Nelson

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14. “People could understand I’m not the worlds biggest flake. I’m just scared.” — Amanda Schulte

15. “Disclosure to employers would be easier. I wouldn’t be viewed as difficult or unreasonable with my accommodation requests.” — Barbara Audacity Johnson

16. “Simply put; I’d be free. Free from judgement. Free to open up without that uncomfortable silence hanging in the air. It would mean freedom to be me; the real me. — Geraldine Renton

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Want to live in a world without mental health stigma? Take the National Alliance on Mental Illness’s StigmaFree pledge.

*Some answers have been edited and shortened


John Oliver Nails the Real Problem With Discussing Mental Health and Shootings

Often in the aftermath of a mass shooting, like the tragedy at Oregon’s Umpqua Community College last Thursday, politicians and the media speculate why, sometimes focusing on the mental health of the shooter. Or, as John Oliver put it on Sunday night’s episode of “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” “There’s nothing like a mass shooting to suddenly spark political interest in mental health.”

Then in a 12-minute monologue (below), Oliver nails why discussing mental health issues after a mass shooting — and only after a mass shooting — is not only misleading but unproductuve, considering fewer than 5 percent of gun-related killings in the United States between 2001 and 2010 were committed by people diagnosed with mental disorders.

“In real life, mental health can be somewhat of a touchy topic,” Oliver says. “We don’t like to talk about it much… and when we do, we don’t talk about it well.”

Instead of dwelling on the possible connection between mental health and shootings, Oliver broke down our “clusterf*ck” of a mental health system, proving the conversation about mental health shouldn’t start, or end, with shootings.

Watch the full video below:

5 Ways to Show Support When a Friend’s Loved One Attempts Suicide

A friend just told you his or her loved one attempted suicide. How does one react to this information?

First and foremore, be there.

Be there for the person who just told you this information, and be fully present with them. Because for every person who’s struggling with mental illness, there are loved ones who care for them. As a therapist who supports family members of those who have mental illness, I can tell you those loved ones need help, too.

Just as the person who has a mental illness struggles with guilt, shame and fear of being judged, so do the loved ones. They too may be fearful to speak openly. So if someone does open up to you about their loved ones’ mental illness, please know they value your support and friendship. They know you can’t fix everything by saying the right thing, but you can be there. Listen to them. Talk to them.

Here are some tips that can help you support your friend:

1. Ask questions.

If the person is comfortable, ask questions. Do so because you want to understand and provide empathy, not out of curiosity. This actually may be a nice change for the loved one. Because the topic of mental illness can make people feel uncomfortable, some might respond with silence, change the subject or offer a hurried statement. If you don’t understand something, ask. It’s better to fully understand than to make assumptions.

2. Don’t assume your friend can tell you what he or she needs.

Don’t assume your friend knows what they need. In times of stress, it’s common not to know. If they’re sharing with you, most likely they just need you to listen.

3. Offer practical help.

Offer/do practical things for your friend. Offer to babysit, bring groceries or bring dinner. Any of those things can be helpful. If someone is hospitalized, visiting hours are often in the evening, so things such as meals and childcare can be important.

4. Encourage self-care.

Remind your friend to engage in self-care. Offer to go to the movies, meet for coffee or go on a walk with them. Friends and family of those with mental illness need to manage their own stress as well.

5. Check in.

Check in with your friend periodically about their loved one. One reason that mental illness is so isolating is because people don’t talk about it. While it can be uncomfortable for both the person struggling and the family, it’s uncomfortable for them not to talk about it, too. They’ll appreciate knowing that you care enough to check in.

A version of this post originally appeared on the JLF Counseling Services blog. 

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.


Sh*t People Say to People With Mental Illness

Finally, there’s a sh*t people say to people with mental illness video, and it’s pretty hilarious — especially if you’ve been there.

“For so many years I’ve heard people say things like this, but haven’t spoken up,” the video’s creator Rachel Griffin, a graduate student at New York University, told The Mighty. “When you’re having a hard time in your own mind and people say things like this, it only adds to the shame.”

Griffin, who’s been diagnosed with depression and obsessive compulsive disorder, also wrote a musical comedy about mental illness set in a psychiatric facility. She says for her, humor is healing.

“I know what it’s like to cry at the pharmacy because you’re insurance isn’t working,” she said. “I know what it’s like to be put on hold for hours, only to be told you can’t get an appointment for another three months. I’ve transferred all of that frustration into advocacy and humor.”

Her “Sh*t People Say To People With Mental Illness” video features characters like an anchor reporting the nightly news, the life coach who doesn’t believe in medication and the friend who understands depression because she has also been sad.

Here are some of our favorite lines:

1. “Just smile!”

2. “Aw, no I’m totally comfortable with it! I’m so glad you told me. Just promise me one thing: never, ever bring it up again.”

3. [newscaster voice] “What the psycho killer mentally ill? More tonight at 10.”

4. “God may be punishing you.”

5. “Think of all the people who have it worse.”

6. “Before I became enlightened, I was also depressed.”

7. “You don’t look like a person with a mental illness, because you’re not like, ugly and weird.”

8. “We all get the blues.”

9. “Have you tried yoga?”

10. “Someone forgot their meds this morning.” 

To see more from Griffin, check out her YouTube channel and follow her blog.

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Why I'm Too Scared to Stay Silent About Suicide

A friend reached out this morning for advice. A dear friend of hers died by suicide.

“What do you say when someone takes their own life?” she asked.

It could have been me.

My friend and I talked briefly about her friend. I had never met him; I didn’t know him. But at the same time when I heard about his suicide, I felt like I knew him all too well. The minute he took his own life I was connected to him in a profound way.

We’re connected because I know his demons. I believe mine are the same. I can imagine what he might have felt: like you’re body is occupied by someone else. Like you’re drowning. Like you’re swallowing water when everyone around you is breathing in air. I’ve seen the world through the same black fog and walked through the same sticky quicksand. I know. I’ve been there.

I used to think pain isolated me. That experiencing deep emotional pain made me different from you, less than you. I hid my pain because I was afraid you would think I was weak. I was afraid my darkness made me ugly. I was afraid if people knew the kind of thoughts I had, the thoughts that told me I was worthless and didn’t deserve to live, they would treat me like I didn’t deserve to live.

I didn’t talk about my pain until it was almost too late. I didn’t tell anyone I wanted to die until I almost did. But after I woke up after trying to take my own life, hope was born. Hope opened the door for me to talk about my pain. And when I started to talk about my pain, I began to see there was similar pain in others. My eyes were no longer blinded by fear. They were instead opened to people who’ve felt like me, connecting us in the most profound way.

It was never the pain that isolated me, it was my fear. Once hope entered in and gave me back my will to live, fear loosened its grip. And when I started to let go of my fear, I began to see the beauty that lives beneath the pain.

My darkness no longer isolates me. My feelings of worthlessness and shame, the thoughts that tell me I don’t deserve to live, that the world would be a better place without me, no longer make me feel alone. They don’t isolate me because I share them. I talk about them. I use them to build a bridge between myself and others who have felt the same. Our darkness allows us to connect, and that connection sparks a light within us that rids the darkness.

And whenever someone dies in such a tragic way, it’s a great reminder of why I need to continue talking about suicide and sharing my pain.

Some ask if I’m scared to open up about my past and sometimes present struggles with suicide ideation. “Aren’t you scared of what people think? Aren’t you scared they will judge?”

No. I’m not scared to talk about suicide — I’m scared to stay silent. Silence is what fuels my depression. Silence turns thoughts into obsessions and obsessions can lead to actions. Silence is the deadliest weapon of all. Silence kills. I know my silence would kill me, and I don’t want to die.

I talk about it so others who are scared to talk about it know they are not alone. We are never alone, despite how lonely we feel.

My pain doesn’t make me different from you. It doesn’t make me less than you. My darkness isn’t ugly. It’s a beautiful bridge that connects me to you. And connecting through pain is the most powerful, transformative connection I’ve ever experienced.   

Follow this journey on Feelings and Faith.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

14 Things Parents of Children With Mental Illness Want You to Know

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 4 million children and adolescents in the United States have a serious mental disorder. And behind most of these children are parents — parents fighting stigma and misunderstanding to get their child the best care possible.

We asked our Mighty readers who are parents to a child with a mental illness what they want the world to know about their experience.

Here’s what they had to say:

1. “There isn’t always an easy answer to what’s going on — we just take it one day at a time.” — Patrick Underwood

Mental health meme: "There isn't always an easy answer to what's going on -- we just take it one day at a time."

2. “If you’re out in public and see our child doing something ‘strange,’ don’t stand there and stare. If you’re curious, ask questions.” — Kendra Monn

3. “Our [mental health] system is in shambles, beyond crisis and families are drowning. We need you to pay attention to us!” — Deborah Mihalik Geesling

4. “Don’t judge what you don’t know. If you care, learn about my son. To know him is to love him.” — Amy Stuart

Mental Health Meme: "Don't judge what you don't know. If you care, learn about my son. To know him is to love him."

5. “Just because my child has a mental illness doesn’t mean she’s going to go out and kill people. [That stereotype] makes it harder for my child to be accepted. It makes it harder for her to believe in herself and what she’s capable of accomplishing one day.” — Patricia Folz

6. “Our children should never feel ashamed of their diagnosis. I want to discuss depression (and all mental illnesses) with other parents just as they would talk about their children’s illnesses with me.” — Richelle Cobb Sons

7. “Love and laughter fill our house just as much as yours.” — Christy Vogel

Mental Health Meme: Love and Laughter fill our house just as much as yours."

8. “Just getting through a day successfully, without a crisis, can be an accomplishment.” — Cyndi Kershner

9. “Sometimes my parenting may look strange. It may look like my child is spoiled. Please respect us and know in the end my husband and I will do what’s best for my child.” — Mary Beth

10. “Be patient and educate yourselves. Just because you can’t see it all the time doesn’t mean it’s not there.” — Lorraine Mitchell

11. “Please don’t lecture me about the evils of medications. Trust we’re making the best decisions for our son. Maybe you would make other decisions, but every child is different. This plan works for us, for him.” — Tia Borkowski

Mental Health Meme: "Please don't lecture me about the evils of medications.

12. “When my son was young all I wanted was for people to understand that he wasn’t a bad kid, he didn’t have a behavior problem. He was frightened and overwhelmed, and if he had another choice, trust me, he would have taken it.” — Pamela Furth

13. “Please trust that I know (and love) my child and therefore know what’s best for him. My number one priority is always to keep him safe, alive and stable — no matter what it takes.” — Kathy Stephenson

14. “I’m proud of my son. Learn to look beyond the dimples and see my 7-year-old as he truly is: precious, worthy, bipolar.” — Katrina Lott

 Meme: "I'm proud of my son. Learn to look beyond the dimples and see my 7-year-old as he truly is: precious, worthy, bipolar."

*Some answers have been edited and shortened for clarity and brevity.

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