Mental illness and stigma
I just watched the most beautiful piece of television – an interview between Anh Do and Kurt Fearnley, where these 2 engaging, positive men talked about Kurt’s incredible life and his sporting achievements. They also discussed some of the stigma he has experienced as a man living with a mobility disability. http://iview.abc.net.au/programs/anhs-brush-with-fame
This stunning interview got me thinking more about the issue of stigma, and I thought I would post another great piece about stigma and mental illness – this time a TED.com article with a few simple hints to change the way we think about difference.
End the stigma
“People still think that it’s shameful if they have a mental illness. They think it shows personal weakness. They think it shows a failing. If it’s their children who have mental illness, they think it reflects their failure as parents.” Banishing the stigma attached to mental health issues can go a long way to facilitating genuinely useful conversations.
Avoid correlations between criminality and mental illness
People are too quick to dole out judgments on people who experience mental health problems, grouping them together when isolated incidents of violence or crime occur.
But do correlate more between mental illness and suicide
According to the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH), 90 percent of people who die by suicide have depression or other mental disorders, or substance-abuse disorders in conjunction with other mental disorders. Yet we don’t give this link its due.
Avoid words like “crazy” or “psycho”
Not surprisingly, nearly all the mental health experts we consulted were quick to decry playground slang like “mental,” “schizo,” “crazy,” “loonie,” or “nutter,” stigmatizing words that become embedded in people’s minds from a young age.
If you feel comfortable talking about your own experience with mental health, by all means, do so
Self-advocacy can be very powerful. It reaches people who are going through similar experiences as well as the general public.
Don’t define a person by his/her mental illnesses
Just as a tumor need not define a person, the same goes for mental illness. Although the line between mental health and the “rest” of a person is somewhat blurry, experts say the distinction is necessary.
Separate the person from the problem
Avoid language that identifies people only by their mental health problems. Speak of “someone with schizophrenia,” not “the schizophrenic.” “What you’re really saying is, this is something that’s not part of a person; it’s something the person is suffering from or is living with, and it’s a different thing from the person.”
Sometimes the problem isn’t that we’re using the wrong words, but that we’re not talking at all
Sometimes it just starts with speaking up. One simple solution, is to keep it personal: “Reach out to your friends. If you’re down, talk to somebody, because remember that one time that your friend was down, and you talked to them, and they felt a little better? So reach out, support people, talk about your emotions and get comfortable with them.”
Recognize the amazing contributions of people with mental health differences
Says autism activist Temple Grandin: “If it weren’t for a little bit of autism, we wouldn’t have any phones to talk on.” She describes the tech community as filled with autistic pioneers. “Einstein definitely was; he had no language until age three. How about Steve Jobs? I’ll only mention the dead ones by name. The live ones, you’ll have to look them up on the Internet.” Of depression, Grandin says: “The organizations involved with depression need to be emphasizing how many really creative people, people whose books we love, whose movies we love, their arts, have had a lot of problems with depression. See, a little bit of those genetics makes you sensitive, makes you emotional, makes you sensitive — and that makes you creative in a certain way.”
Humor, some say, is the best medicine for your brain. Says comedian Wax: “If you surround [your message] with comedy, you have an entrée into their psyche. People love novelty, so for me it’s sort of foreplay: I’m softening them up, and then you can deliver as dark as you want. But if you whine, if you whine about being a woman or being black, good luck. Everybody smells it. But it’s true. People are liberated by laughing at themselves.”