Collectively as a society, we should prioritize normalizing mental health and mental illness in a way that it is as equally important as our physical health or a physical illness.
In other words, if we start treating our mental health as if we catch the common cold, more people would be in seeking treatment to get rid of those icky symptoms. Even though treating mental illness isnâ€™t like getting meds over the counter, we can always stay proactive about how we cope and manage our day to day symptoms of depression or anxiety.
The National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that at least 1 in every 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness in any given year, 1 in 6 U.S. children between 6-17 experience a mental illness each year, and 75% of all persistent mental illness begins at the age of 24 years old. This means for every 5 people you see or 5 people you can name, 1 out of those 5 people will have had an episode of depression or anxiety that can easily be caused by a stressful event. Astonishingly, the World Health Organization (WHO) have also found in studies that between 30 and 80% of people with symptoms of mental illness avoid seeking treatment at all and gradually symptoms become harder to deal with.
But why isnâ€™t it that simple? I believe that stigma has a lot to do with how we address mental health and mental illness in the first place. Public stigma surrounds the topic of mental health with negative attitudes and beliefs that create stereotypes which leads to discriminating behaviors against vulnerable people. For example, thinking people with mental illness are violent and dangerous should be avoided. This is an example of a cognitive-affect process associated with an overexaggerated stereotype which also turns out to be false. It is more likely that someone with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence. Other factors noted to influence stigma include gender orientation, sexual orientation, culture, religion, even economic status.
When stigma is internalized, it can lead to harmful outcomes such as feelings of shame and isolation, low self-esteem, hopelessness, and low self-worth. Internalized stigma is also known as self-stigma and when self-stigma is experienced alongside mental illness, it can increase and exacerbate the symptoms of mental illness.
Ways that anyone can be proactive in reducing the stigma of mental health is by being more mindful of our language and behaviors. For example, using the word â€œcrazyâ€ loosely in conversations or avoiding our friends or family members who feel like sharing their challenges with mental health. Using self-disclosure with vigilance is important as we also want to be mindful who we are sharing experiences with. A good place to start is finding a qualified mental health professional, therapist, counselor, or pastor who can process how stigma effects them individually. Another approach to reducing mental health stigma is to find a community or a group of people that share the same experiences of feeling misunderstood or judged. With these kinds of statistics of the relevance of mental illness in our society, it is by far outdated to continue stigmatizing and discriminating people who struggle with everyday stressors and have to isolate in fear of being judged for an concern that is just as common as the common cold.
The National Alliance of Mental Illness is an organization that aims to reduce the stigma by providing free support groups for families and individuals seeking additional support surrounding mental illness. You can find out more about their services on this website here (https://www.nami.org/Support-Education/Support-Groups).