Tips on How We Can Reduce Mental Illness Stigma by Working Together
Are you interested in learning to reduce mental illness stigma even with social anxiety?
This past weekend I was listening to a true crime podcast (because that’s what I love to do in my free time). I actually listen to these podcasts while cooking or cleaning on my headphones, as I find it makes mundane chores more fun.
This particular episode was about a woman named Kaelyn Louder (Google her name if you want to learn more). Kaelyn disappeared after a series of unusual events in which she called 911 to report disturbances and break-ins that didn’t appear to be actually happening.
The hosts of the podcast (who I love, by the way) got stuck on the fact that on the 911 calls, Kaelyn sounded relatively coherent and was able to answer questions. They concluded that she couldn’t be suffering from a “psychotic break” because of how normal she sounded.
I don’t usually do this, but I felt compelled to go to their website and add a comment. I noticed I wasn’t the only one! I and numerous other commenters noted that they were promoting a stereotype of mental illness, that she had to be “frothing at the mouth” or some other crazy thing in order to be mentally ill.
Quite the contrary actually. In the case of Kaelyn Louder, I truly believe she thought there were intruders in her house, but there weren’t. She was behaving in a way that anyone would behave if they thought there were intruders in their house. What made it mental illness was that the intruders were a product of her brain, not something that was actually happening.
The whole story made me think long and hard about why stigma still surrounds mental illness. Particularly for things like schizophrenia and psychosis, but also for illnesses like depression, social anxiety, etc.
And I think it comes down to this: it’s still poorly understood and is seen as happening to “other people.” “Those people” and not me. As long as we see it that way, it’s really hard to break the stigma.
To help reduce stigma, I’ve listed below the four main ways I believe we can all work together to get this DONE!
Share Information and Stories About Mental Illness
We can’t learn if we don’t share what we know. Below are some easy ways that you can help to share information about mental illness even with social anxiety.
- Share posts on social media about mental illness, mental health awareness campaigns, etc.
- Share stories of your mental health just like you would talk about your physical health.
- Participate in awareness campaigns like Bell Let’s Talk. In 2019, Bell Let’s Talk Day raised $7.2 million for mental health initiatives. Not only is the campaign raising awareness, but it’s also funding better programs for mental health.
- Show your support for mental health awareness with tattoos (even temporary ones), t-shirts, mugs, etc.
- If you have a personal message to share, start a blog to connect with people who need to hear your story.
Watch Your Language About Mental Illness
As part of my day job, I edit academic manuscripts about mental health. One of the things that I often have to be on the lookout for in these manuscripts is the use of mental illness terminology as an adjective.
For example, someone might write…
But I need to change that to…
Kids with ADHD
Why? Words matter. When you use a term as an adjective it defines the person. We are not defined by our mental illness, and our language should reflect that.
Recently you will see language changing from “committed suicide” to “died by suicide.” Again, it’s a matter of changing perceptions. We want to get away from the notion that people are responsible for their mental illness, just as we don’t generally hold people responsible for their physical illnesses.
Show Compassion to Others with Social Anxiety and Mental Illness
This one seems simple, but it’s important. If someone you know is going through a period of poor mental health, show them just as much compassion as you would a friend experiencing a physical illness.
This could be as simple as asking what you can do to help or as complicated as going to doctor appointments with that person. Ask what they need and how you can help.
Pay it Forward When You Overcome Social Anxiety
If you’ve come through a difficult time in your life, consider volunteering or becoming a mentor or coach to others going through the same things you were.
Guess what? You can help someone else living with social anxiety once you’ve learned to tackle it yourself. How rewarding would that be? Not only will you be helping someone else with the same problem, but you’ll be doing something to keep you social and pushing your boundaries.
I have a wonderful vision of a world filled with Social Anxiety Success Coaches, just like we see a rise right now in ADHD Success Coaches. Wouldn’t that be amazing?
Let’s face it—we are still a long way from eliminating mental illness stigma but it can be done. If you can, share information and stories about mental illness, watch the language you use when you talk about it (including how you talk about yourself), show compassion to yourself and others, and pay it forward when you can.