During the first week of October each year, National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) and other mental health participants in the United States raise awareness of mental illness through Mental Illness Awareness Week.

During Mental Illness Awareness Week on Oct. 1-7, 2017, National Association for Mental Illness (NAMI) and other mental health participants across the United States are raising awareness of mental illness and the effects it can have on individuals throughout the country. In 2018, NAMI is promoting the theme of “CureStigma” throughout all awareness events, including Mental Illness Awareness Week. Mental health disorders, including depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, and schizophrenia are highly associated with negative stigma which has made access to care difficult for many individuals.

One in five American adults is affected by a mental health disorder and slightly less than half receive treatment. One of the main barriers to treatment is stigma. Stigma is toxic to individuals’ mental health because it creates an environment of shame, fear and silence that prevents many people from seeking help and treatment. Stigma is portrayed in the news media, on social media, on the playgrounds, in the workforce and in many communities. Stigma is more prevalent among certain ethnic communities, specifically Native Americans, Latinos and the Asian communities. Many of these communities view mental illness as a sign of weakness and therefore seeking help is often not an option. For help during times of crisis, many seek refuge in their family, community and church, which usually all uphold the same outlook that mental illness is a sign of weakness. Mental illness is not a sign of weakness, it is not a choice and it can affect anyone regardless of his or her gender, age, socioeconomic status or ethnicity.

The negative effects of stigma on mental health:

  • Results in the reluctance to seek help or treatment
  • Is directly linked to the lack of understanding by family, friends, co-workers or others
  • Results in fewer opportunities for work, school or social activities or trouble finding housing
  • Directly leads to bullying, physical violence or harassment
  • Can result in a denial of health insurance coverage
  • Can lead to many individuals to believing that they will never succeed at certain challenges or that you can’t improve your situation

Stigma does not always come from others

Stigma doesn’t just come from others. Many individuals may mistakenly believe that their condition is a sign of personal weakness or that they should be able to control it without help. Many individuals blame themselves regardless of what others are telling them. These unhealthy views and thoughts can lead to low self-esteem and restricted access to treatment. An individual should never equate their self-worth with their illness. Instead of saying, “I am Bipolar”, individuals should say, “I have bipolar disorder”.

Breaking the stigma

There are many ways to raise awareness about mental illness and break the negative stigma that surrounds it.

  • Educate yourself and others, using credible sources, about mental illness
  • Talk openly about mental health
  • Unfollow any social media accounts that do not support mental illness in a positive light
  • Join a mental health support group
  • Participate in a mental health campaign, fundraiser or community event
  • Engage in positive conversations about mental illness
  • Show compassion for those with mental illness
  • Encourage equality between physical illness and mental illness
  • Don’t harbor self-stigma
  • Let the media know they are participating in stigma by sending them a letter or commenting on their social media account
  • Be careful with your language and verbiage. Avoid terms such as “crazy”, “psychotic” or any other words that give off a negative connotation

Although many mental disorders are not 100% curable, the signs and symptoms are treatable with the right care. “Stigma” is 100% curable with the right attitude of compassion, concern, open-mindedness, and understanding and with education.