5 Ways You May Accidentally Be Perpetuating Mental Health Stigma
Mental illness is a subject that is increasingly talked about in the media by various groups and charities, as well as many celebrities who have been opening up about their own struggles. It is an issue that people are starting to tackle, however this discussion has yet to trickle down into the general population. Stigma surrounding mental health remains and many are still fearful of talking about their mental health for fear of how others will react.
Most people may not even realise that they are perpetuating the stigma as simple phrases are so ingrained into us that we often say things without thinking about it. The lack of knowledge of the consequences of our words and what it means to others means that most people continue to say or do damaging things without realising it, and those whom it affects often don’t speak up because of the very stigma that is being perpetuated.
Here are five ways we may be accidentally perpetuating mental health stigma, and ways to rethink these behaviours.
Using Mental Health Disorders as Adjectives
It is important to realise that the words we use carry meanings and have an impact that often stretches beyond what we intend. Even if we do not mean to insult others, words carry history and implication and using them as every day adjectives can be damaging. We have all heard someone call a meticulous or tidy person “a bit OCD” or accuse a moody person of being “bipolar”. Words like this, and those such as ‘schizophrenic’ and ‘psycho’ are used all too often out of context and most often as insults. The use of the words in this way diminishes the seriousness of the illness. It also spreads misinformation about what those who actually live with these illnesses go through on a day to day basis.
Rather than using these words without understanding them we should educate ourselves on what the words really mean, and think before making an offhand comment about whether this word actually makes sense within the context of what we are saying.
Using Phrases Like “Snap Out Of It”
Using phrases like “snap out of it” or “pull yourself together” delegitimises mental illness as well as places blame on the person suffering as it implies that they have control over their illness. Telling someone to simply “snap out of it” implies that they can simply flick a switch to turn off their illness. When we stop to think about this it’s clearly nonsense. It would be like telling someone with appendicitis to stop the inflammation of their appendix with positive thinking.
What we should do is listen to people when they need to talk. Invalidating a person’s problems will only lead to a reluctance to open up which is detrimental in the long run. Often it helps a person to simply know that someone is listening to them and validating their problems.
Treating Psychiatric Medication Differently From Physical Medication
There is a lot of misinformation and stigma surrounding psychiatric medication, as well as a lot of shame associated with needing to take it because of this. Psychiatric medication is viewed by most people as something that only ‘crazy’ people need, or as something that only those who are psychotic or suicidal should need. There is a prevailing idea that we “should” be able to pull ourselves out of it. If this were true suicide would not be the 10th most common cause of death worldwide.
We need to remember that mental illness is, as the name suggests, an illness that is beyond the control of the sufferer. In the same way that someone with high blood pressure takes daily beta blockers to stabilise their blood pressure, someone who may have a mood disorder may need to take daily mood stabilisers to remain healthy day to day.
Speaking Negatively About Therapy
Like medication, therapy can often be a very stigmatised subject. This is in part due to what many people think that therapy entails. Many people still adhere to the outdated idea that therapy involves lying on a long leather sofa and taking rorschach tests. It is treated as something to be embarrassed about much in the same way that taking medication is. This idea makes one feel as though they are weak, or as if they have somehow failed to hold themselves together. However, in reality it is much the same as receiving physio-therapy.
This issue comes down to the same misconception surrounding medication. Again, we should consider therapy as similar to physio-therapy. If someone breaks their leg and needs physio as treatment it is not considered as a failing on their behalf, and we should think of therapy for those with mental illness in the same way.
Not Discussing It At All
Perhaps the most damaging thing to do is not discuss mental illness at all. This increases the taboo feeling of the subject and prevents people speaking out, resulting in isolation and often escalation of illnesses. It is a large, but often silent presence in society today. We are not taught how to talk about mental illness, as demonstrated above. The fear of judgement, the stigma, and often trivialisation of the subject all too often leads people to stay silent and attempt to deal with it on their own. Our brains are the most complicated organ in our bodies, and the one that we know the least about. Despite this when it comes to talking about it we’re often not sure how to start.
Creating an open and non-judgemental conversation about mental illness will only continue to help take away many of the misconceptions and stigmas that remain around it, creating a more healthy feeling around the subject.