A is for Awareness: How to cope with mental health stigma

By Brendan Guarino, MA

Stigma refers to the devaluing and shaming of a person or a population due to the characteristics that they possess. Overall, this leads to discrimination and negative social experiences. Stigma can be harmful in many ways, which include:

● Individuals or group feelings of isolation
● Reluctance to seek help or treatment
● Bullying, physical violence, and/or harassment
● Negative views of self and biases

When we are sick with a cold, we take medicine. When we have a broken bone, we seek out a doctor who specializes in treating broken bones. So what about when we are struggling with our mental health? Seeking out a mental health professional seems like the answer, Doesn’t it? Unfortunately, views around mental health are heavily stigmatized. Very often mental health treatment is seen as a taboo subject. In fact, 1 in 5 adults and 1 in 3 adolescents ages (18-25) experience mental illness. Conversations about mental health and dealing with difficult issues are danced around and sometimes left in the shadows. This can be true across gender, culture, and race. Statistics show that women are more likely than men to seek out mental health treatment due to stigma. So, how can we as individuals and a community raise awareness and destigmatize mental health?

Here are some tips on how to cope with and overcome the stigma surrounding mental health:

Advocate, educate, and participate
● First and foremost, the language we use surrounding mental health is paramount. Changing language can change perceptions. Educating ourselves and getting involved in local mental health organizations is a way that you can help to advocate and otherwise provide a voice for those around you that may be struggling.

Embrace it, don’t fear it
● Even though the first step can feel overwhelming and scary, be honest with yourself and seek help when needed. Sometimes individual problem-solving may not work. We all need a helping hand, and that’s ok. Very often we compare ourselves to other people
around us and what is good for one person may not necessarily be good for another. We all have our own unique experiences that shape who we are. Mental health treatment can provide you with the tools you need.

Be open
● Talking in an open manner about our own struggles and encouraging others to speak out can be empowering. Very often individuals that struggle with mental health issues hide out of fear of judgment from others. Having an open mind can breed conversation and relay a broader message of support.

In the month of May we celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month. A is for awareness and awareness can be a powerful tool of change. To aid in change, strive to become more aware of the language you use, strive to be aware of your openness to new things, strive to use less judgment and most of all, strive to be aware of yourself and what you need.

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