We need support, not stigma. How do we end the stigma around mental illness and start talking about it?
The birth of support is derived from education through the hands of connection. There is a revolution of awareness towards mental health and mental health stigmas occurring globally. Each country is adapting to this change at its own pace.
As for India, we are adapting slower than the rest. However, this is not inherently “bad.” Why? Because this gives us the opportunity for a whole new society, a new era, a new mindset; a better future.
It is said that there is only one doctor for every one hundred thousand patients that need care in India.
Given that we’re not all going to become doctors, where is our role in this? As a community to those around us, how do we help?
It’s no secret that there is a stigma around mental health. We shy away from talking about it, because often we may feel shunned or shamed for opening up and sharing our stories. We’ve been conditioned to believe that mental illness is seen as a weakness or a punishment, something to hide or ignore. While avoidance may work temporarily, this clearly is not a sound solution.
We see this proof in the rise of anxiety, depression, suicide, and many other illnesses. As a community, us ignoring this problem has only caused it to become worse. We need to focus on addressing the truth at hand, and through this creating support around mental illness, instead of stigma.
According to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) the first, and perhaps one of the most important tools in ending the stigma surrounding mental health is,
simply opening up and talking about it.
When we share our stories, not only does this take the weight of secrecy and shame off of our shoulders, it may help someone else who is in a similar situation.
Too often we assume we’re struggling alone, that we’re the only ones who have a battle going on inside of us. The beauty of opening up is seeing that you’re not alone. The lines of connection that can be developed, shared, and spread through discussing the truths of mental illness has the capacity to heal us.
A community is a group of individuals with the recognition that they are working together as one, and by opening up about mental illness, we are living true to this.
Once we have opened up the doors of connection and communication, what follows is crucial in ending this stigma. NAMI discusses how language has the ability to build us up or break us down. The words that we choose to articulate and have conversations with determining the depth of love and connection present.
It’s our opportunity to really connect with someone. When talking with someone who is opening up about their mental illness with you,
choose loving, caring, kind words. There is always a kind way to share your truth.
Choosing our words with intention, with a willingness to consider how we would wish to be talked to, can help alleviate the stigma surrounding mental illness.
Words and concepts such as, “crazy, disabled, faking it, failure, helpless, incapable” etc. are just some of the ways we turn away from compassion through language and further fuel the stigma.
The first step is opening up. However, if right after they do they become bombarded with criticism and accusations, they will immediately feel the need to close up and not continue to share.
By choosing supportive, caring, and kind words we create a safe space for them to really share what’s on their mind and have a chance to understand it more.
Another thing that goes hand in hand with language and conversation, is education. How are we going to help someone if we don’t have a general idea of what it is they’re facing? There are many things in life that appear scarier than they really are the less we see, know, or understand about it. Mental illness is one of them.
When we don’t know what’s going on inside of us, or we don’t know what’s going on inside someone else, we feel fear. We feel like we don’t know what we’re up against. It’s a known human evolutionary quality to fear what we do not know.
If as a community, we make an effort to educate ourselves on mental illness, then it will be easier to have a conversation. It will be easier to be there for someone or even be there for yourself. Knowledge is power.
Once we’ve educated ourselves on the truths of mental illness and are better prepared to have educated conversations about it, we’ve set the foundation for action.
For Empowerment. According to NAMI, encouraging equality between physical and mental illness is a movement in the direction of empowerment. When we don’t recognize that mental illness has an equal capacity to affect and hinder someone’s life just like a physical illness does, we take away their power.
This behavior can lead someone to believe that it’s all in their head, that it’s not real, that it’s not bad enough to seek help. This is the farthest from the truth and it only extends the painful process.
When we choose empowerment over shame, we are choosing life. We are choosing to show up and be present with the truth. We are choosing to be brave and bold.
Taking it a step closer towards healing is seeking treatment. There is only so much we can learn about mental illness, and by choosing to go to a doctor who is specifically trained to help illness, we are owning our illness. When we accept and move forward, we are marching towards a better life.
If you wish to seek help, some ways of therapy that you will often come across during the healing process is CB therapy, expressive art therapy, and many other forms of therapy.
CB therapy, otherwise known as cognitive behavioral therapy, is a very effective form of treatment that can be very healing. This is because you have the opportunity to open up to someone who is not only there to listen but to help you retrace the steps in your thoughts, feelings, and emotions to get to root causation of what could be affecting you so profoundly.
Expressive art therapy is incredibly healing as it allows us to transform our negative energy into productive, positive energy. Healing techniques such as yoga, meditation, singing, and all kinds of art gives us the chance to alter our perspective on what our pain means to us.
Sometimes we only remain in the confines of one perspective of our illness, not seeing a way it could somehow make our lives better one day.
Art helps us see that there is a way to make beauty out of pain, and sometimes our greatest tribulations can end up becoming our greatest triumphs. Artscape, a mental health organization, recognizes this truth. Artscape believes that everyone should have this opportunity to heal, and because of this we provide services to those in need of support and care through financially accessible art therapy.
The value of reaching out for help can be reflected in a simple metaphor. Let’s say you have to take out the trash. It’s quite heavy, so heavy in fact, you can’t pick it up to throw it away. If you were to try, you may seriously hurt yourself. However, when you ask a friend to help you throw it away, suddenly it’s possible.
Sometimes in life, we need a helping hand. Help those just like you crush the stigma and reach out a hand of support, ask for help if you need it. Own your illness, don’t let your illness own you.