Mental Health Awareness Week 2018: CureStigma

Every year, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), along with other organizations, come together to promote awareness on this growing concern.  In recent years, they’ve also chosen a specific focus to help people get more involved!  This year, the theme is “CureStigma.” Because the biggest problem isn’t the number of individuals being diagnosed with mental health issues.  It’s the number of people not getting care.  Maybe they’re too worried about what others will think to open up about their struggles. Or maybe they believe they can “get through it” alone.  But why should they have to?  This year, for Mental Health Awareness Week, we’re going to talk a little more about what this stigma really means.

Look at the Facts

If you’re a numbers person, there are plenty of available statistics concerning mental illness. The most notable is probably the fact that 1 in 5 people will be affected by mental health issues at some point in their life.  That’s not entirely accurate, though.  When they say affected by, what they really mean is will personally experience. This could be a diagnosed bout of depression, treatment for anxiety attacks, etc.  However, the reality is virtually everyone will truly be affected by this issue at some point or another. With 20% of Americans currently dealing with some sort of diagnosis, we all know someone who’s struggling.  It could be a friend, a coworker, a family member, a partner, etc. Whether you get an in-depth look at how they’re dealing with their disorder, or just a glimpse, we could all do a little more to help them by bringing awareness and ending the stigma of mental illness.

The Damage of Stigma

How do you view people with mental health issues?  Do you get uncomfortable when people talk about their problems in front of you? Granted, it’s not the easiest discussion to have, but this attitude contributes to the CureStima focus we’re working on this year.  In some case, people may feel threatened by those with mental illness, which can evolve into discrimination against them.  These attitudes don’t just hurt the emotional wellbeing of those already struggling, but it can also prevent them from coming forward and getting the treatment they need. When we talk about this stigma, there are really two types we’re referring to.

 

Social stigma is the one people generally think of.  It’s the prejudice those officially diagnosed with a mental health issue face once others learn of this label.  Sometimes this manifests as discriminatory behavior in the workplace, or exclusion from certain activities with friends.  It could even come from within the family, but it always originates from some external source.  On the other hand, perceived stigma or self-stigma is the exact opposite.  As an internal experience, it involves perceived prejudice, rather than actual discrimination. Because of the history of social stigma, those with mental illness may believe that coming forward will cause everyone to treat them differently.  They may even feel shame about their struggles, wondering why they’re unable to overcome these issues on their own.  In turn, all these factors contribute to a pattern of silence that helps no one.

Finding a Cure

Good news!  We already know how to accomplish the CureStigma movement. We just need your help.  When it comes to assisting those with mental health issues, you don’t need a psychology degree or anything like that.  You just need a little more information. Understanding what your friends, colleagues, and family are going through will accomplish more than you know. If you’re not familiar with the signs of a mental health struggle, do a little research.  You don’t need to be able to diagnose the problem, but being aware is half the battle.  Research has shown that individuals who are more educated on the issues tend to be more compassionate, as well.  Your empathy and willingness to listen could inspire those closest to you to get the help they need!

However, you also need to be honest.  Uncovering internal biases we carry is one of the most difficult tasks, yet it’s also key to removing the stigma of mental illness.  If you’re unable to address your own prejudices honestly, how can you expect someone else to do the same?  Many individuals making small changes such as these can do so much to further the CureStigma cause!  Even by reading this, you’re doing something to increase your understanding during Mental Health Awareness Week 2018.  Don’t forget to share it to take that one step further!  You can also come to The Family Center anytime you have questions about mental health issues.

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