The stigma that surrounds mental health creates a very toxic environment. Many people face challenges with their mental health but negative stereotypes still exist, eliminating these is the first step to breaking the stigma. Creating an environment that supports people that need help and developing an understanding of mental illnesses is the next step. The last step is to start openly talking about these issues and feel comfortable doing so. These three steps would eliminate the mental health stigma and create a world that prioritizes the well-being of a person. Unfortunately, these three steps aren’t always easy to achieve. You can be the catalyst to a stigma-free environment by following these steps and encouraging others to follow in your footsteps. The only way we can achieve this is by talking about mental health and making our conversation heard.
Eliminating the Stereotypes
Get rid of everything that you think you know. Negative stereotypes are our biggest roadblock in breaking the stigma. Those struggling with depression are not just sad, those struggling with anxiety are not just overreacting, those struggling with OCD are not just neat freaks, and those struggling with bipolar disorder don’t just get moody swings.
In turn, you are sad, not depressed. You are worried, not anxious. You are organized not OCD. You are moody, not bipolar. Fixing our everyday vocabulary helps those who are struggling by helping them recognize that they aren’t being irrational. These feelings will affect a person’s everyday life and ability to function properly, but the way that people use these words causes them to believe that it’s normal.
Watching the way we say something is a great start but also hold others accountable for their words. Correct your peers in private and educate them on the impact that simple words can have on a person.
Making Support Available
Once you have wiped all prior misconceptions that may exist in your brain, it’s time to start getting an accurate understanding of what mental illness really is. Once you start understanding what someone is really going through, you can start offering support. However, make sure to listen to them first, don’t assume you know exactly what is going on in their head. Mental illnesses affect everyone differently and no one knows exactly what they are feeling besides them. Let them know that even though you may not always understand that you’ll always be willing to listen with an open mind. Don’t try to be rational, make sure they know that their feelings are valid.
You don’t have to be their full-time therapist but to just have someone check in on them means more than you may know. Even if they don’t open up to you, having someone who genuinely cares about them can relax them. They may not be ready to talk about their mental illness yet but that is okay, let them know that you’ll be there when they are.
Lastly, do a little research on what resources are available that can offer professional support. Maybe your college offers free counseling or your work insurance covers therapy. A lot of times help is out there but the people who are struggling either don’t know about it or feel belittled for using it. Raising awareness of what is available opens doors for those who need help but the biggest thing is to make sure that everyone knows that it’s okay to ask for help.
Start Talking About It
Don’t avoid talking about your feelings, welcome those conversations with open arms. Create a sense of community that supports one another. Talk about how depression keeps you from doing what you love, talk about how anxiety causes you to psych yourself out of trying something new, talk about how you became self-conscious scrolling through your Instagram feed. This isn’t just about mental health, this is about having peace of mind and getting to a point of genuine happiness.
When we start talking about all of this more and more, it won’t be such an uncomfortable topic. Next time the topic of mental health comes up, don’t just brush it off and change the topic, instead embrace it and talk open-heartedly.
We can’t change the world overnight but if we stick to this fight we can create a stigma-free environment for everyone.