Mental Health Awareness Month (MHAM) is recognized each year to bring attention to and reduce the stigma of mental health. Removing the stigma associated with mental health opens the door to support, treatment, and healing for the thousands of Americans who go without each year. The term mental health is often used negatively as descriptor of an affliction or suffering. But the truth is, we all deal with mental health every day and some of us require support to manage it. Mental health looks like stress, anxiety, depression - things most of us have experienced at some point in our lives. It can also look like trauma, PTSD, and suicidal ideations. The reality is, no matter how small or big your mental health concern is, left untended it can fester and lead to more serious outcomes. The good news is, by working together we can be the change. We can celebrate those who ask for help. We can normalize mental health care. And we can eradicate the shame linked to mental health. So how do we destigmatize mental health? Reducing the stigma of mental health can be done in a variety of ways. Below are a few suggestions to #SilenceStigma but perhaps the best way is to keep talking about mental health. Silence Stigma Tip #1: Educate yourself and others. Like most health conditions, mental health concerns can present different in everyone. We often hear the media associate egregious acts with people who “are suffering from a mental health break.” While that account could be true, it also doesn’t mean that all people who have mental health concerns are violent. In fact, that is the minority. Deepening your knowledge of mental health creates space for empathy, understanding, and support. In your quest to educate yourself it is important to use credible sources like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Mental Health America, SAMHSA, and MentalHealth.gov. Lastly, acknowledge mental health myths exist. Not everything you hear about mental health is true. Know the facts and the myths. Silence Stigma Tip #2: Stop the shame. There is no shame in accessing mental health support. We must liken mental health diagnoses to any other medical condition. Can you imagine if people who have diabetes were shamed and judged for taking insulin? Accessing mental health support is no different. We should applaud the bravery of those who have the courage to ask for help and support them in their journey. Silence Stigma Tip #3: A person is not their diagnosis. As humans, we made of many parts. Our heritage, biology, culture, education, employment, health conditions, relationships, an endless list of communities and identities to which we belong. We are a sum of our parts, and no single piece of our makeup should be allowed to define who we are as a person. If you find yourself saying “that schizophrenic person” or “that suicidal person” check yourself. Question yourself. Is that descriptor necessary for the conversation you’re having? If it is, reframe your statement to use person first language. Such as, “a person in my parenting group has depression…” Silence Stigma Tip #4: Be a support. When a person comes to you and asks for help, there are three important things you should do:
– Stop what you are doing and commit your attention to hearing what they are saying.
– You may not have any experience with what they are sharing but you can empathize by validating their feelings.
– No matter what this person is telling you, believe their story.
Once you listen, validate, and believe, ask them what type of support they need. If they are in crisis, ask how you can help them feel safe. Offer to go to an intake appointment with them or drive them to an emergency room. Simply being there for the person is enough. Silence Stigma Tip #5: Recovery is not a straight line. There is a reason people say, “it’s a journey” when talking about mental health. A person does not heal or learn to cope overnight. Continue offering support to a person by asking them how they are doing and what they are working on. Have patience. If this is the first time a person has sought mental health support, it will take time for them to discover their own path. Oftentimes people are thrown from their journey when they are triggered by a trauma or experience that led them to begin their journey in the first place. Do not shame the person. Give grace and acknowledge their hard work. What's next? Reducing the stigma of mental health will take the collective efforts of us all. Your participation in fundraising efforts and community trainings for mental health are important and appreciated. Join the mental health awareness movement – your support is lifesaving.