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5 Resolutions to Bust Mental Health Stigma in 2018

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Though activists have been hard at work to change the way our society views mental illness, the stigma surrounding these illnesses is still incredibly strong. Collectively, we can do more to change the way our friends, family and communities view and talk about mental illness. Here are five resolutions to fight stigma in 2018.

1. Stop using “mentally ill” as a derogatory adjective.

Too often, people who mean well use insensitive language when discussing mental illness. Usually, people use such language in casual conversations about a thing or person they disagree with or don’t understand. People equate “baffling” with “mentally ill” because they don’t know much about the behavior in question or the illnesses they are comparing it to.

Regardless of the behavior someone displays and how we feel about it, we can’t ethically diagnose individuals without professional evaluation. Rather than labeling people “mentally ill” when you disagree with them, find a different, more accurate adjective. When you are tempted to call something or someone “schizophrenic,” “bipolar,” or “OCD,” recognize that doing so disparages those who live with these illnesses and perpetuates stigma.

We must make an effort to use more compassionate language. We must stop using mental illnesses as insults and find more appropriate words to articulate our feelings.

2. Recognize that mental illness is not a significant risk factor for interpersonal violence.

Whenever there is a high-profile mass shooting, the media immediately begins to discuss mental illness and speculate about the perpetrator’s diagnosis. As a result, the general public and many politicians incorrectly believe mental illness is a significant risk factor for interpersonal violence. In reality, the vast majority of those with mental illness will never be violent, and people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators.

This myth is hugely stigmatizing, and we must commit to challenging it when we hear it – whether it is in the media, from our representatives or in our everyday lives. The evidence shows that other factors — like a history of domestic violence — are better predictors of future violence. Mentally ill does not mean violent. Period.

3. Talk openly about suicide.

In the fight to prevent suicide, talking openly about suicide is the most important step we can take. Often, friends and family are scared to ask about suicidal feelings because they don’t want to “put the idea” in their loved one’s head. But research shows that asking whether someone is suicidal does not increase the likelihood of an attempt.  In fact, asking can allow the person in crisis to get the help they need.

Suicide is difficult to talk about, but until we are able to discuss it openly, we can’t effectively prevent it. If you suspect a loved one is suicidal, ask them. If you are thinking about suicide and need to talk, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Don’t be afraid to ask about suicide. You could save a life by doing so.

4. Be compassionate to others and kind to yourself.

If your loved one is struggling with a mental illness, tell them you are there to listen and help. Talking about mental illness openly and without judgment is among the most important ways we can break stigma. Learning more about mental illness can also help family and friends understand what their loved one is experiencing.

Often, people with mental illness feel a deep sense of shame about their condition(s). This can often lead to low self-esteem and self-loathing. If you are struggling yourself, know your illness is not your fault. Remind yourself that you are strong. Be kind to yourself, and if it feels helpful, talk to a loved one or to a support group about what you are experiencing. Refusing to feel ashamed and knowing you are not alone is a step towards breaking self stigma.

5. Educate those around you.

Most people are not trying to be offensive when they discuss mental illness. When you hear people make derogatory or incorrect statements about mental illness, it is OK to correct them. These interactions do not have to be confrontational, condescending or hostile. Saying, “I have a friend who lives with schizophrenia, and he is not violent. Actually, most people with mental illness will never be violent,” can educate those around you, break stigma and encourage people to be more thoughtful when discussing mental illness.

If you are comfortable divulging your own experience with mental illness and it is safe to do so, telling your story and/or expressing how such derogatory statements affect you can make a big impact and help people better understand mental illness.

We have a long way to go to break the stigma surrounding mental illness, but by making these resolutions  – and any others you may have – those with lived experience, caretakers and loved ones can continue to change the conversation surrounding mental illness.

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Getty image via criene

Originally published: December 31, 2017
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