Published On: Sat, Mar 23rd, 2013

Mental Illness: Fighting The Stigma

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Avoiding the Negativity Associated with a Mental Illness Diagnosis

There are few labels that carry the stigma that mental illness does. People hear it and think “crazy,” or “psycho,” or any other number of hurtful adjectives. These stigmas not only deter people who are suffering from illnesses to seek professional help but also impact their family and friends.

While the overall awareness, diagnosis, and treatment options are continually advancing, educating the public on the truth about mental illness is the only way to overcome these misconceptions.

Understanding Mental Illness

Studies have shown that 1 out of 5 people will experience some form of mental illness in their lifetime. A person could suffer from depression after the death of a loved one or suffer the effects of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after a natural disaster or other traumatic event. These can last temporarily or become long-term issues.

Along with depression and PTSD, the most common types of mental illnesses diagnosed in the past 10 years were bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.

While these can be debilitating, most can be controlled. With the advances in modern medicine, even those suffering from schizophrenia can lead relatively normal lives – without most people ever knowing that they’ve been diagnosed or suffer from a mental illness.

Overcoming Personal, Negative Stigmas Associated with Mental Illness

A person diagnosed with a mental illness can avoid personal feelings of negativity toward their diagnosis just by educating themselves as well as their family and friends. If friends and family can understand what their loved one is going through, it can be much easier to shake off the effects of negative stigma. In addition, a person can find numerous support outlets and assistance overcoming not only their mental illness but the stereotypes associated with it.

  • Joining a Support Group— Support groups are open forums where individuals can discuss the stereotypes and struggles with their diagnosis. Others suffering from similar mental illnesses can provide comfort, knowledge and coping assistance. Support groups are often found through mental health agencies, hospitals or mental health treatment centers, and often allow you to bring a family member or friend so they can see first-hand the daily struggles you and others just like you are going through. There are also support groups for the friends and family members of those with mental illnesses.
  • Take Advantage of Community Programs—Community programs are available for individuals with mental illnesses. These are typically offered through your city or county behavioral health services. You can find community programs that include group therapy sessions, workforce opportunities and medication assistance. If you join a particular group, you may also have group activities – such as cooking, trips and seminars – that help expose you to a larger support network in your area.

Make Personal Changes

While you cannot control how others view mental illness, you can become your own personal advocate for the cause. When people share their negativity regarding mental illness, educate them, but in a positive way. By showing that mental illness is nothing to fear, you can increase awareness throughout your community – including within your personal network of family and friends.

If you need assistance coping with your mental illness or finding a support group in your area, contact your local behavioral health services office for a list of groups and community projects you’re eligible for. While you may not be able to change your entire community, you can control your own negative reactions to mental illness through self-awareness, education and activity.

David Cormier is a blogger for a San Diego-based mental health treatment center.

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