Daily, I work with people who have a mental illness. They are not crazy or psycho-they have an illness that affects them just as a heart condition may affect the person sitting beside them on the bus. They have to take medication to ensure they remain stable-just as a person with a heart condition may. Many people with a mental illness are fully functioning members of society and are coping with their illness very well, but some are not. Many people that have a mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar, OCD, post-traumatic stress disorder, or severe depression live a daily struggle. That struggle may be in the form of the constant medication changes and the side effects of their medication, the shame and low self esteem they feel from the stigmas placed upon them, the lack of work they can find because of their mental illness, or the struggles they have in their relationships. The stigma that surrounds people with mental illness is very prominent in today’s society, and many people that I work with have stated that how others judge them is one of their greatest barriers to a complete, satisfying life, and to enhancing their mental wellness. Many people who think they may be ill refuse to accept it because they feel that the term “mental wellness” is one of shame and judgement. Why is this the case? Why has society deemed people with a mental illness as “crazy”? I am fully aware that many of the recent mass shootings have been said by the media to been done so by a person with a mental illness, and that is part of the reason it has a negative stigma. The sad part is that those people needed help-they needed some form of support for their mental illness. Until we stand up and say that mental illness is NOT a bad word and there becomes more places of support in local communities-I feel that we are slowly pushing down the people who are trying to be well again. People that have a mental illness are real people-human beings who are battling and trying to overcome something in their lives-just as we do everyday. We need to educate our friends, loved ones and students (for you teachers) about mental illness, the stigma that surrounds it and why it is so important, as a society, that we address the issue.
What you can do to stop stigma and discrimination
(taken from http://www.cmha.ca)
The Canadian Mental Health Association gives us tips on how to recognize attitudes and actions that may be supporting the stigma surrounding mental health concerns below:
Use the STOP criteria to recognize attitudes and actions that support the stigma of mental health conditions. It’s easy, just ask yourself if what you hear:
- Stereotypes people with mental health conditions (that is, assumes they are all alike rather than individuals)?
- Trivializes or belittles people with mental health conditions and/or the condition itself?
- Offends people with mental health conditions by insulting them?
- Patronizes people with mental health conditions by treating them as if they were not as good as other people?
If you see something in the media which does not pass the STOP criteria, speak up! Call or write to the writer or publisher of the newspaper, magazine or book; the radio, TV or movie producer; or the advertiser who used words which add to the misunderstanding of mental illness. Help them realize how their words affect people with mental health conditions.
Start with yourself. Be thoughtful about your own choice of words. Use accurate and sensitive words when talking about people with mental health conditions.