We’ve made a lot of progress in recent years in our attitudes towards mental illness. Whereas mental illness used to be considered a weakness, it is now generally considered a health issue that requires treatment. A recent poll found that a majority of Americans, both liberal and conservative, now believe mental health should be covered by both private insurance and state and federal programs. This could be due to increased familiarity, as more than 60 percent of Americans say they know someone who has struggled with a mental health issue.
On the other hand, we still don’t quite walk the walk when it comes to mental health. Another poll found that only 42 percent of people would feel “very comfortable” working with someone with a serious mental health issue like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. More than 60 percent of parents would not feel comfortable sending their children to a school that employed someone with a serious mental health issue.
What’s more, people don’t seem to know very much about mental health in general. A recent study found that people are very bad at spotting the symptoms of various mental illnesses including anxiety and addiction. This lack of accurate information creates fear around mental illness and makes it less likely that people will be able to help a friend or family member suffering from mental illness.
Clearly, there is still a way to go when it comes to reducing the stigma of mental illness. This matters for several reasons. First, public opinion affects public funding for mental health. While health insurance now typically covers mental health to some extent, many people, especially low-income people, fall through the cracks. Also, the stigma prevents many people from getting help or discussing their problems with friends and family. Finally, the stigma erodes social support, which is crucial for recovering and staying healthy.
This is especially important for people struggling with addiction. First, addiction is, itself, a mental health issue, but it is quite often treated as something else, such as a moral failing or a lack of willpower. Better public understanding of mental health would also include a better public understanding of addiction. Second, addiction very often occurs with other mental health issues. It’s very common for someone with addiction to also struggle with depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or other issues. If people understood this link better, it would certainly change our attitudes about the causes of addiction and how it should be addressed.
We need governments, healthcare institutions, medical professionals, nonprofits, and schools to play a part in reducing the stigma of mental illness. Since mental illness affects almost everyone in some way, it’s better for everyone when mental illness is better understood. You can play a role in spreading the truth about mental illness and reducing the stigma. Here’s how.
People generally don’t know very much about mental health. For example, they often believe that people with schizophrenia are more likely to be violent. In fact, people with schizophrenia have the same propensity towards violence as the general population, but they are at a much, much higher risk of committing suicide. Ignorance and misconceptions about mental health issues leads to fear. Learning as much as you can about mental health can correct your own misconceptions and help you support the people in your life struggling with mental health issues.
Share your own experiences with mental illness.
Although people are more open about mental illness than they used to be, mental health problems are still largely invisible. One way to change people’s opinions about mental illness is to speak up about your own experiences. When more people do this, more people will be aware of the full extent of the problem and the urgency for finding solutions. It will also encourage other people with mental health issues to seek help with less fear of being stigmatized.
Call out falsehoods.
There are a lot of misguided ideas about mental health floating around. Whenever there’s a mass shooting in the US, for example, certain people always blame mental illness and say we need to do more to support mental health. It’s true we need to do more to support mental health, but it doesn’t help to imply people with mental illness are dangerous. Calling out this misconception and others helps to fight misinformation. Even if you don’t convince the person you’re talking to, you might convince people listening. Sharing the facts about mental illness improves awareness and makes people less afraid.
Watch your language.
It’s easy to dismiss someone as crazy, especially someone who does something we don’t like. It’s important, though, not to make mental illness into a club to beat someone with. No decent person would mock someone for being deaf or paraplegic, but mental illness is somehow different. It could be that someone is behaving in a way that seems bipolar or autistic because that person is actually bipolar or autistic. Being aware of this possibility and not immediately attributing their behavior to poor character can help fight the stigma. When in doubt, try to speak from a place of empathy and compassion.
If you’re struggling with mental illness or addiction, The Dawn Medical Rehab and Wellness center can help. We are one of Thailand’s most respected addiction treatment and wellness centers. We use cutting-edge treatment modalities to provide personalized care to treat addiction, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, personality disorders, PTSD, and executive burnout. See our contact page to reach us by phone or email.