So much progress has been made in raising awareness and ending stigma around mental illness in recent years. In a changing society, more people are asking how they can do better. Although we still have a long way to go, mental illness is generally more accepted than it used to be, and as a person who suffers with mental illness I like to educate others about it when asked.
So how can we overcome mental health stigma? Here are three simple steps to begin.
1) Be mindful of your questions.
How you word your questions and responses can make a big difference in whether or not that person will open up to you again in the future. Asking “What’s wrong with you?” or “What’s your problem?” can seem standoffish and not well meaning. Ask them “Are you okay?” instead.
2) Don’t assume. Someone might look okay but it’s not the whole story.
A smile can hide a lot. Don’t assume that the centre of attention doesn’t have any problems just because they’re cracking jokes with everyone. I have depression but I don’t have a rain cloud follow me everywhere I go. We’re human too; we’re allowed to be happy.
3) Don’t be dismissive.
Just because you don’t find it triggering doesn’t mean somebody else won’t. Certain places, phrases, or songs can bring back painful traumatic memories for a person who would rather not relive them. These things might mean nothing to you, but that’s not the case for everyone. If someone is traumatized by something, please respect that. Do not mock, tease, or torture them with it.
I hope this brief list is helpful. It’s really important to remember, mentally ill people aren’t dangerous – and we can do anything healthy people can! Battling a mental illness doesn’t render us completely useless. We can still hold down jobs, travel, meet new people, and do anything a healthy person can.
It’s just more difficult for us.
We have bad days where we can barely make it out of bed and good days where we feel like we can do anything. We’re not a danger to society – in fact we’re more likely to be a victim of crime than a perpetrator.
Don’t single us out because we’re ill, we’re trying our best. That’s all any of us can do.
Zoe Thomson is a freelance writer and mental health blogger. Her work has appeared on The Mighty and I am 1 in 4. She started her blog, No Light Without Darkness, documenting her personal journey with anxiety and depression, with the goal of raising awareness and reducing stigma surrounding mental health.
Picture Source: Morguefile.
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