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Fighting Stigma: How to Respond to Inappropriate and Insensitive Comments About Mental Health

     

Stigma and discrimination against mental health issues are unfortunately common. They often result from a combination of fear and misunderstanding, and can have harmful effects. Stigma and discrimination can cause people to hide mental illness and avoid talking about it. They can impact jobs, living situations and personal relationships.

Thankfully there are actions that we can all take to respond to inappropriate and insensitive comments and to help end stigma.

We can watch our own word choice. It is better to choose words that say what we mean, without putting down a group of people. We all know this is true, but actually doing it takes practice and dedication.

Avoid using words like “crazy,” “insane,” “lunatic” and “psycho.” Because they are often used to say something hurtful, they put down those who live with mental illness. Using “crazy” to describe a mentally healthy person doing bad things makes it seem like mental health is a choice. Mental health is medical health, not a bad choice or bad behavior.

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We can stand up for our friends, our family members and ourselves when someone says something insensitive about mental health. Politely state that mental health problems are not the fault of the person who must live with them. Remind them that mental illness is caused by complex factors, including a person’s genetics, childhood and life events, and the chemicals and structures in the brain. People do not choose to have mental illness. “Weakness” or flaws in character do not cause mental health issues. Explain how common mental health concerns are: 26 percent, or one in four, American adults have a mental disorder in any given year. We all know people who have mental illness.

Tell them that you are friends with someone who struggles with mental health, or that you have relatives who fight depression, anxiety, addiction, schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. If you feel comfortable, tell your personal story about mental health, or simply state that you are a proud survivor.

Simply say that you disagree with what they said. Remind them to speak respectfully of other people, particularly those that struggle with health, whether it is physical or mental.

Support community integration of people with mental illness. Knowing people with serious mental illness makes us less likely to stigmatize them. Making mental health personal allows us to take ownership of the respectfulness and allows us to empathize better. Welcome those with mental health concerns in your place of employment, your neighborhood, your church, your family and amongst your friends.

Support education and understanding about mental health in our schools, communities and in our own lives. Knowing more about mental health makes us less afraid, and less likely to stigmatize.

Speak as openly about your own mental health, as you would about your physical health, if you are comfortable doing so. Demonstrate that mental health concerns are only a small fraction of who you are. Mental illness does not define you.

You can also make a commitment and encourage others to do so through the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) pledge to be stigma free.

Ending stigma of mental health will not be easy, but together, we can achieve a world of greater respect and understanding for those who live with mental health challenges.

About the Author

Zoë HarnEnz, Medical student at the University of Wisconsin, Madison
Reviewed by Claudia Reardon, M.D.

Resource:

The Kim Foundation at www.thekimfoundation.org

     

AnxietyDissociative DisordersADHDBipolar DisordersIntellectual DisabilitySleep DisordersDepressionAutismPatients and FamiliesHoarding DisorderGender DysphoriaAlzheimer’sOCDPersonality DisordersEating DisordersGambling DisorderSpecific Learning DisorderSomatic Symptom DisorderSchizophreniaAddictionPTSD

 

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