May is Mental Health Awareness Month and since 1949, organizations across the United States have been actively trying to promote awareness about depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety and schizophrenia during the month of May. This year, National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has chosen the theme of “CureStigma” for this year’s campaign. Studies have shown that one in five American adults are battling a mental health illness and one of the main reasons why these individuals do not seek professional help is due to the stigma that is surrounding mental health. People are afraid to seek help and treatment because they may be judged, ridiculed and shunned by others or they may judge themselves and as a result many individuals live in silence about their undiagnosed mental health disorder. Many individuals shame or stigmatize mental health and they do not even know it.
Casually using terms such as “depressed” or ‘OCD” to describe daily feelings
Many individuals overuse these terms in everyday vocabulary to express their immediate feelings without realizing these terms should not be so loosely used. Obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression are serious mental health disorders that affect millions of Americans in the United States. By using these terms loosely to describe a present mood or attitude, it trivializes these mental health conditions and as a result, many people do not take these disorders seriously when in fact they are devastating for many.
Referring to others as “psycho” or “crazy”
Often times we use these adjectives to insult individuals when these insults actually contribute to the stigma associated with mental illness. These adjectives perpetuate the idea that individuals with mental illnesses should be ashamed or feared instead of supported. Often individuals think these off-the-cuff remarks are harmless, but the reality is that they hurt those living with mental illnesses, and their families, and they increase the misperceptions about the illnesses. We see this happen frequently in politics, sports and even among children on the playground. We need to be more aware of our verbiage that we use in everyday life.
Labeling someone based on their illness
Labeling individuals as “schizophrenic” or “bipolar” instead of calling them by their name or addressing them as “the individual with schizophrenia” dehumanizes individuals with mental illnesses. Mental illness is one part of an individual, as he or she should not only be known for their label. The terms “schizophrenic” or “bipolar” are stigmatizing because they reduce the whole person to a diagnostic label.
Judging or mocking someone based on their abnormal behavior
Mental illnesses can cause individuals to act in abnormal ways however when others joke, make fun or shame them either in person or on social media; it directly supports bullying and can result in worsening their mental illness as well as perpetuating the stigma.
We all have a role to play in reducing and eliminating mental health stigma. If you hear it, correct it. If you read it, show it to others and explain to them why it is wrong. If you think it, look in the mirror and ask yourself, “Do I really want to be someone who discriminates against another person who is living with a brain disease?”
For the month of May, Mental Health America and NAMI are challenging you to make small positive changes in your life that can benefit your mind and your body. Document these changes and feel free to share on social media. You may be surprised by how much positive impact one small change can have on your life.