Smashing the stigma


Paige Atkison

Paige Atkison, Senior Digital Editor

The stigma surrounding mental illness can be suffocating. It stifles conversation and breeds prejudice and discrimination. People with mental illnesses are often blamed for their illness, told that it is “all in their head,” or subjected to ableism, a form of discrimination targeting people with disabilities and chronic illnesses. This stigma has even found its way into our lexicon with insults like “crazy,” “psycho,” and “insane.” Though these insults may seem harmless, they reveal a deep truth: our society finds mental illness weak and unacceptable. However, we are not powerless to change our society’s view of mental health. Confronting the stigma starts with you.

Speak Openly

In many cultures, discussing mental illness or mental health in general is taboo. It can certainly be an uncomfortable topic among our generation. But the best way to confront an issue, no matter how difficult it may be, is with our language. Language shapes the way we see the world around us, and it can be our most powerful tool for cultural change. Speaking openly and honestly about mental health is not only important for your own health, but for society at large. We must also consider the language we use when we discuss mental illness. Are we using demeaning terms or slurs? Is our language contributing to further stigmatization? Instead, use your words to foster an environment that invites others to be more open.

Educate Yourself

Do you have limited knowledge of mental illness and mental health? Educate yourself! Seek out resources such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) or local mental health programs near you to learn more. Educating ourselves on mental illness can help conversations become much simpler. Knowing what signs and symptoms to look for and what terms to use can open up opportunities for more open conversations. For issues like suicide and suicidal ideation, educating oneself on these issues can save lives. From knowing where to find crisis resources to learning how to support a loved one or peer during a crisis, education can be critical.

Practice Compassion

Compassion is perhaps one of the most overlooked methods of confronting misconceptions surrounding mental illness. Mental illness can sometimes cause “frightening” symptoms such as hallucinations, sudden outbursts, and self-harming behavior. Though these are extreme examples, they reveal another important truth: mental illness can be ugly. It is important to remember that behind each behavior is a person suffering from an illness. View those with mental illness as people, not their illness. Try to empathize with their struggles and attempt to see life through their perspective.

Don’t Self-Stigmatize

Finally, if you are someone struggling with mental illness, don’t self-stigmatize. It is all too easy to internalize the negative perceptions of mental illness and let it affect your self-esteem. If you hear stigmatizing sentiments long enough, you might believe them to be true. But it’s necessary to not only fight the stigma for others but to fight it within oneself. Cultivating compassion for oneself is critical to maintaining a healthy mindset and increasing one’s self-care. This is easier said than done, but it is how you smash the stigma within yourself. Remember, smashing the stigma always starts with you.