fight the stigma around mental illness

Fight the Stigma Around Mental Illness

by Pat Fontana

The week of October 4-10 is Mental Illness Awareness Week. Although it is critical to understand the signs and symptoms, as well as the options for help, throughout the year, we take this week to truly emphasize the need to fight the stigma around mental illness.

Advocates Working Together

The theme of Mental Illness Awareness Week in 2020 is “What People with Mental Illness Want You to Know.” There are many things to know about mental illness that will help fight the stigma of the condition. Primarily, it is important to understand that mental illness affects everyone, either directly or indirectly, through family, friends, or co-workers. Stigma around mental illness is just as widespread.

Each year, during the first week of October, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), along with other participants, work together to educate the public and provide support. Since 1990, when Congress first officially established Mental Illness Awareness Week, advocates have worked together to sponsor activities, large or small, to educate the public about mental illness.

You Are Not Alone

NAMI’s year-long awareness campaign is focused on the theme “You Are Not Alone.” The statistics reinforce their theme:

  • 19.1% of US adults experienced mental illness in 2018 (47.6 million people). This represents 1 in 5 adults.
  • 4.6% of US adults experienced serious mental illness in 2018 (11.4 million people). This represents 1 in 25 adults.
  • 16.5% of US youth aged 6-17 experienced a mental health disorder in 2016 (7.7 million people).
  • 3.7% of US adults experienced a co-occurring substance use disorder and mental illness in 2018 (9.2 million people).

The Effects of Mental Illness

Mental illness can affect many aspects of a person’s life. People with depression have a 40% higher risk of developing cardiovascular and metabolic diseases than the general population. People with serious mental illness are nearly twice as likely to develop these conditions. In addition, 19.3% of U.S. adults with mental illness also experienced a substance use disorder in 2018 (9.2 million individuals).

When making the effort to fight the stigma around mental illness, it’s also very important to understand that it’s okay to talk about suicide.

  • Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among people aged 10-34 in the U.S.
  • Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S.
  • The overall suicide rate in the U.S. has increased by 31% since 2001
  • 46% of people who die by suicide had a diagnosed mental health condition
  • 90% of people who die by suicide had shown symptoms of a mental health condition, according to interviews with family, friends and medical professionals.

How to Fight the Stigma

A number of strategies undertaken during Mental Illness Awareness Week and throughout the year can aid in fighting the stigma surrounding mental illness. The first is to become more fully educated about the topic. Take steps to learn more about mental illness, about the shame many people feel that keeps them from seeking help, and about ways they can access helpful mental health programs.

Another step is talk about it, bring it out in the open. Part of the stigma results from people who think they have to hide it or not bring it up in conversation. This only adds to the unnecessary shame and embarrassment of admitting they have a problem and that they want to seek help for it.

Mention it in conversation. Instead of saying “I had a bad day yesterday,” go with “I was having some depressed or anxious feelings yesterday.” This may be a much harder conversation to have, but it is an honest one that opens the doors for others who are struggling to relate.

As part of the conversation, ask questions. Don’t assume a close friend staying home from work is because of the flu but try not to pry. It’s a fine line, but those who struggle with their mental health will more often than not appreciate the occasional “How are you really doing?” from someone they care about. Even if they’re ok, you just made it known you’re someone that is safe to come to with this kind of thing.

Bring Mental Illness Out into the Light

Stigma thrives on secrecy and darkness. No one should be ashamed of a mental health condition. When we bring stories of struggles with mental illness out into the light, the stigma weakens and eventually dissipates. When people with mental health conditions share their struggles and their experiences of emotional suffering, others will understand it better.

The most important way to fight the stigma around mental illness is to stop perpetuating it. Insulting someone by saying they’re “crazy” or “nuts” actually, although inadvertently, perpetuates the stigma. Likewise, so does judging someone who has been in therapy or who is seeking help for a mental health condition. The decision to pursue treatment is a positive step and should be encouraged and supported.

South Miami Recovery is Here to Help

At South Miami Recovery, we understand that mental illness and substance abuse can have a complicated relationship. Our professional staff includes licensed mental health professionals and certified substance abuse therapists. We offer HIPAA-compliant telehealth services as well as safe outpatient services during COVID-19 so you can get the help you need. To learn more, contact us today. Call South Miami Recovery at 305.661.0055.