January 29th was Have that Talk day
“About 10 years ago, I remember trying to tell my dad that I was feeling depressed. His first response was to say that I was over-reacting and not trying hard enough to get better! It took him a long time to come around to the idea that I had a mental illness because of the stigma around it in his family growing up.”
– Participant – have THAT talk workshop
That is an example of how stigma can feel for people living with a mental illness.
So what is stigma?
Stigma is a set of negative beliefs and prejudices about a group of people, including negative behaviours towards them. People may face stigma because of their race, religion, sexuality, gender, economic situation and a variety of other things.
People living with mental illnesses often face stigma and discrimination. This can make them feel ashamed, hopeless, distressed and reluctant to get help or accept help. They feel like they are to blame for their illness.
In fact, almost half of Canadians thought people used the term mental illness as an excuse for bad behaviour and 27% said they would be fearful of being around someone who has a serious mental illness.
Why do some people think this way?
Well…many years ago mental illnesses were not well understood. We didn’t know how mental illnesses influenced a person’s brain or affected their thoughts, feelings and behaviours. Because of this, people with mental illnesses were not treated with the support they needed and were considered outcasts or even dangerous.
To end stigma, we need to understand and accept that mental illnesses are like any other health condition and need the right treatment. We would never say to someone “Just think positively and your diabetes will go away”. But how many times have you heard “Try to be happy, think positively, don’t be so depressed. You have so many good things in your life.”
Unfortunately, the stigma people experience often keeps them from getting help and support from family, friends and professionals. This is especially troubling because we know from research that the sooner someone gets help, the better the outcome will be. This is true for all health conditions, including mental illnesses.
So how can we all work on reducing stigma?
- Think about your own feelings about mental illnesses. Do you have biases or judge people?
- Be aware of language. Avoid using words that can be hurtful like “psycho” or “crazy”.
- Think about and discuss what you see in the media. The way people with mental illnesses are shown in the media is not always accurate or fair.
- Learn more about mental illnesses. Check out trusted websites like the Canadian Mental Health
Association or Bell Let’s Talk.
- Explore opportunities for relationships with people in your life who have mental health
challenges and illnesses.
Think about one thing you can do now to help reduce stigma around mental illness. It could be a small thing like not using hurtful and labeling words. Maybe you could reach out to someone who you think might be struggling and encourage them to get help. It could even be sharing your own experience living with a mental illness with someone you trust, if that feels comfortable and safe for you. All of these things help reduce stigma and keep it from stopping others and ourselves from getting help when needed.
For more information on reducing stigma and other mental health topics, check out the haveTHATtalk mental health series.