Overcoming Mental Health Stigma

Last week I posted about how mental health stigma can present itself as an obstacle to one’s self-care. To check that post out, click here: https://caringcounselor.blog/2019/01/29/stigma-and-self-care-pt-1/

Picking up where I left off though, we cannot deny the prevalence of stigma in today’s society. However, it is obvious to see the progress our society has made in fighting the stigma. Up until the 1970’s, individuals with a mental illness were normally institutionalized and sometimes never came out. They were still conducting lobotomies until the same time period. This was only fifty years ago. My parents were merely teenagers. To say we have made strides would be an understatement. However, there is still work to be done. Even on an individual level, there are steps we can take to combat mental health stigma.

Educate yourself and others. Humans are afraid of what they don’t know. If we go into a situation feeling prepared with the appropriate information though, the anxiety surrounding the situation significantly decreases. Read a book. Do a Google search. Talk to people. Learn more about mental health and mental illness. Once you feel confident like you have a strong foundation in a given topic, share your knowledge with others. Once we learn about what frightens us, it usually doesn’t seem as scary.

Person First Language. I first learned about person first language when I was conducting schizophrenia research in college. Part of my job as a researcher was to ensure that these individuals felt comfortable, which was difficult when a primary symptom is paranoia. Treating someone like an individual rather than their illness was key. My professor taught my research lab to say “someone diagnosed with schizophrenia” or “someone with schizophrenia” versus “schizophrenic.” You hear it with other mental illnesses as well. “They are sooooo OCD.” “I’m bipolar.” “She is a borderline.” Hello! Did we forget that there an individual under there? Rather than letting their mental illness define them, let their personality, goals, hopes, character, etc. tell you who they are.

Be open and honest about your mental illness. Let’s talk taboo. Talking about mental illness carries so much shame. Even family members of the mentally ill hide behind their shroud of guilt. Personally, this is why I am so open and honest about my own mental health in this blog. Talking about it provides me with a release, but also helps to normalize the topic. It helps others feel like it is okay to talk about and that they are not alone in their recovery.

Finding support. Along the same lines, there are strength in numbers. I have also found that most people are more than supportive when it comes to discussing mental illness. Typically, if someone is placing blame or feeding into shame, typically those relationships were already doomed. Most individuals outside of these toxic personal relationships provide a sense of comfort and belonging. Also, support can help us brainstorm ways to overcome our own feelings of embarrassment surrounding the stigma and educate us on our symptoms.

Empower. Rather than letting the shame run our lives, we should be doing the exact opposite. Prove to yourself and others that even someone with mental illness can live a productive, fulfilling life. Own it and move onward.

Fight self-stigma.  We are our own worst enemies. The little voice in our head (no, the other one) says some highly irrational things when we are in the midst of a battle with our mental illness. Reminding one’s self of how to manage it and that one can live meaningful life is pertinent in fighting the stigma.

In the words of Bear Grylls, “Improvise. Adapt. Overcome.”

-The Caring Counselor




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