The month of May is Mental Health Awareness Month. In addition to spreading awareness and fighting stigma, we also wanted to provide some ways to work on your mental wellness throughout not only this month but every month. Here are some ideas from Mental Health America:
May is Mental Health Awareness Month.One way that we would like to participate is to help reduce the stigma associated with mental health.
In terms of mental health, David Susman PhD refers to stigma as negative beliefs, descriptions, attitudes, behavior or language. To go a step further, a stigma can be unfair, discriminatory or disrespectful in how we talk, feel, behave, or think towards someone coping with mental health issues. To help, we have compiled a list of ways that you can reduce mental health stigma.
- Educate Yourself
Accurately inform yourself about mental illnesses. Check out MentalHealth.gov for some mental health facts and myths.
- Educate Others
Once you have educated yourself, you can pass on your new accurate knowledge to others. Additionally, you can educate others, by presenting a positive attitude about those with mental health issues. You can do this by challenging any stereotypes or myths that others you know may have about those suffering from mental illness.
- Don’t Label Those with Mental Illness
Keep in mind that people are still people and not their diagnosis. For example, do not refer to someone as “she’s schizophrenic,” but rather state they have a mental illness. Remember to be respectful.
- Don’t be Afraid of Someone with a Mental Health Issue
Don’t fall to stereotypes. While it may seem that someone with a mental illness may display unusual behavior, keep in mind that it does not mean they are dangerous. That is an inaccurate stereotype that has been perpetuated by popular culture.
- Choose What You Say Carefully
How you say something can impact the way others speak and think. Never use derogatory or hurtful language about mental illness or to someone with a mental illness. Be sure not to use mental illnesses as an adjective. For example, don’t say, “I’m so OCD.” Speaking this way only furthers misconceptions and stigmas about mental illnesses.
- Be Sensitive and Focus on the Positive
Be supportive and reassuring to someone with mental illness especially when you know they are having a tough time. Additionally, focus on the person’s positive aspects. Essentially, treat others how you would like to be treated.
You can help fight stigma by spreading awareness about mental illness and helping to eliminate the many myths that exist about mental illness. Commit to changing the attitudes around you and we can help to get rid of the stigma once and for all.
Doorways LLC. is a faith-based counseling organization in Phoenix, Arizona, that provides comprehensive outpatient treatment focused exclusively on 13-25-year olds and their families specializing in treatment for eating disorders, mood disorders, anxiety/OCD, substance abuse, depression, ADD/ADHD, self-harm, suicide prevention, and family counseling.
By Katherine Cook
On December 27, 2016, Carrie Fisher passed away. She was best known to the world as Princess Leia from the Star Wars series. That too is how I discovered her when I was about 10 or 11 years old. Oh, how I loved that character. Not your typical princess, she was strong, witty, independent. I wanted to be like her. Years later I find it amusing how I found myself not wanting to be like Leia, but like the woman who played her.
When I was 23 almost 24 years old, after years of serious “mood swings” and a very alarming manic episode, I was diagnosed as bipolar 1. A scary diagnosis. All that I knew of bipolar disorder is what had been portrayed in the media. I had a great support system with my husband, mother, father, sister, psychiatrist, and some friends, yet I still felt very lost. Very alone. I knew no one who was “like me.” No one who really understood what being in my head felt like. So, I began searching.
In my search, I found that the woman who played the princess that I idolized so much as a child was bipolar too. Not only was she bipolar, but she wasn’t ashamed to be bipolar. She owned it. She was proud of it. She was a mental illness advocate and fought to shut down the stigmas that surround it. She had a kind of courage that gave me hope.
Coming out as a person struggling with a mental illness is not an easy thing to do. There is a huge misconception as to what it means to be bipolar, or mentally ill in any of its forms, in part due to how the media portrays it. The stigma that surrounds any mental illness certainly doesn’t help the sufferer feel comfortable seeking help or having open discussions about how it affects their life. Carrie Fisher fought for us. See, I could get up in front of thousands of people and shout the same things she did until I was blue in the face, but no one would take the time to really hear me. After all, they don’t know me. I’m just some random work at home Mom to them. But people “knew” her. They respected her, loved her character, and even loved her in a way. When she spoke, people listened. I am so thankful for the voice that she gave to people like us. Her interviews, her stories, her books, they inspired me. More importantly, they helped give me the courage to fight this thing and to live my life. She helped give me the strength to continue on and not let my diagnosis consume me.
In the days since her passing, I have seen several articles similar to this. People suffering from mental illness, not only bipolar disorder but others as well, expressing their gratitude for what she had done for them. I wonder if she knew how much she meant to us. To us, she wasn’t Princess Leia. She was Carrie Fisher, advocate, stigma fighter, mental illness warrior, and I know we will forever be thankful.
These are some of my favorite quotes from Carrie Fisher about living with a mental illness:
- About living with a mental illness: “I am mentally ill. I can say that. I am not ashamed of that. I survived that, I’m still surviving it, but bring it on.”
“At times being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you’re living with this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of.”
“The only lesson for me, or anybody, is that you have to get help. It’s not a neat illness. It doesn’t go away.”
“Bipolar disorder can be a great teacher. It’s a challenge, but it can set you up to be able to do almost anything else in your life.”
- Her advice to people struggling with mental illness who are afraid to pursue their dreams: “Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.”
- On not being ashamed: “I’ve learned to celebrate my life, to embrace it. If I have the problems, the problems don’t have me. They’re not something I’m ashamed of.”
“I don’t want to be caught… ashamed of anything. And because someone who has bipolar doesn’t just have bipolar, they have bipolar, and they have a life and a job and a kid and a hat and parents, so it’s not your overriding identity, it’s just something that you have, but not the only thing – even if it is quite a big thing.”
- On being an advocate: “We have been given a challenging illness, and there is no other option than to meet those challenges. Think of it as an opportunity to be heroic – not ‘I survived living in Mosul during an attack’ heroic, but an emotional survival. An opportunity to be a good example to others who might share our disorder.”
If you or someone you know is suffering from a mental illness, or maybe just need some extra guidance, please know there is no shame in seeking help. With the right support and treatment, we can live fulfilling lives. Stay strong, stay brave, you got this.
Katherine Cook is a work at home Mother of three amazing boys. She enjoys her work blogging for various types of businesses. Katherine was diagnosed as bipolar 1 around nine years ago and has recently started sharing her journey and struggles with others in hopes of helping to end the stigma surrounding mental illness.
May is Mental Health Month, which is a time of support dedicated to anyone whose life is impacted by mental illness. May is also designated as a time for increasing awareness about teen mental health, and encouraging anyone who has been struggling with mental health issues to seek help in a safe, supported environment.
An important component of supporting teens seeking help for mental health illnesses or disorders is to help challenge and eliminate the stigmas surrounding mental health. Removing misinformed preconceptions or stigmas regarding mental illness will help foster the safe, inclusive environment that those with mental health issues need to seek help confidently.
What is a Mental Illness Stigma?
According to the Mental Health Commission of Australia, a mental illness stigma is created when a person is labeled solely by their mental health condition, and faces feelings of shame and disgrace through discrimination brought about due to their condition.
Stigmas associated to mental illness, particularly in teens, can make it even more difficult for adolescents to come forward because they feel ostracized, guilty, or ashamed. Stigmas perpetuate prejudice and can also bring about or intensify other negative feelings for teens and their families such as:
- Unwillingness to seek help
- Spread of misinformation
5 Ways to Challenge and Eliminate Mental Illness Stigmas
Eliminating the stigmas associated with mental illness in teens is entirely possible through education, support, and open conversations on this difficult topic.
Here are 5 things that you can do this month, and beyond, to help support those you know who suffer from mental illness and work toward eliminating the negative and prejudicial stigmas that exist about mental health and wellness.
- Learn, understand, and share correct and positive information about mental illness.
To best reduce the stigmas surrounding teen mental illness, it is important that you learn all the facts about mental disorders, and only share correct and positive information with your family, friends, and others.
- Embrace and acknowledge those who have experienced mental health issues.
If you, your teen, or another loved one in your life has personal experience with mental health issues, then it is vital that you encourage open, honest conversations about their mental health and truly listen. It is also important to remember that a teen with a mental illness is not solely defined by their condition, so acknowledging their mental health as just part of who they are can be very beneficial to making them feel accepted and respected.
- Replace labels and judgement with inclusion and respect, for those suffering from mental illness.
Placing judgement or labels on teens with mental health problems can cause them to feel isolated, alienated, and alone. However, if you approach mental health with support, inclusion, and respect, then those already struggling will feel more confident in speaking up for themselves and seeking out support and help.
- Speak up when you hear others spreading misinformation about mental illness.
Stigmas exist so predominantly because there is a lot of misinformation and incorrect perceptions about mental illness in circulation among people. If you hear others speaking negatively about mental health or spreading incorrect information about those who live with mental illness, it is important that you speak up and defend yourself or your loved ones with accurate facts. Educating others about the truths of mental illness can help diminish the negative impact stigmas have on society.
- Talk openly and honestly about the reality of experiencing and living with mental illnesses.
Due largely to stigmas associated to mental illness, many teens will feel ashamed to speak about their mental health and seek out help if they need it. You can encourage your teen to speak openly and honestly, and ensure them that their feelings will not be met with any judgement or blame. It is also important for teens who live with mental illness to share real life experiences about their struggles and how they live in spite of their mental illness.
There is a growing social media community dedicated to highlighting the truths about mental illness and supporting those who need or are getting help. You can share your experiences, or encourage your teen to do the same by using the hashtag #mentalillnessfeelslike.