The month of May marked Mental Health Awareness Month, an observed occurrence in the United States since 1949. If you didn’t use the month to educate, learn, assist, seek healing or offer help, it is never too late to grow.
This Is My Brave, Inc. is one of many organizations with the mission of ending the stigma surrounding mental illness and mental health issues by encouraging those struggling to share success stories of how they have lived full lives despite navigating mental health obstacles. The motto of the movement is “Storytelling Saves Lives.” Organizations like this help to break down the fear that surrounds discussing mental illness.
Opening up — when ready — about personal struggles can be a tremendously cathartic process. When done in a group setting with individuals who share similar experiences, the power of the human bond may not be strong enough to entirely heal, but it can forge a lifeline that enables and empowers the speaker.
In order to break down barriers, we must first recognize them. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) lists nine ways to fight mental health stigmas in a 2017 article. They include talking openly about mental health struggles, educating yourself and others, being conscious of language, choosing empowerment over shame, being honest about treatment, eliminating self-stigma, showing compassion for those struggling and calling out the media for their stigmatizing.
Another tip the NAMI article offers is to encourage equality between physical and mental illness. We often do not blame others when they fall ill. If a loved one is in the hospital, we visit them with presents, compassion and words of strength. If a coworker has the flu, we would wish them well and hopefully organize a care package. If we read a story about someone struggling through a chronic disease, we are apt to feel empathy and the need to offer help should we have the means. Why can’t the same benevolence be offered to those dealing with a mental illness? Both struggles — physical and mental — should be approached the same way. Discuss what is wrong. Do not judge. Seek proper treatment. Nourish yourself. Take the time to heal.
There are other misconceptions that we need to break down in order to be more understanding. Website Mend the Mind carries the motto “Shatter the Stigma,” exploring common mental illness myths. Did you know that one in five youth struggle with mental health issues? Rather than divert to the typical “it’s just a phase” approach, be serious about youth struggles so that treatment can be started if needed.
While work is being done to bring about awareness, some mental illnesses are still more stigmatized than others. The website states an important reminder that people with mental illness aren’t automatically “psychos” who should be locked up, while not all who suffer from Schizophrenia are violent. Furthermore, depression is not a phase that someone can just “snap out of,” nor are people with mental illness lacking in intelligence or incapable of contributing to society. The only thing ignorant about mental illness is the judgments made about it.
And here is another friendly reminder: Hollywood is an entertainment industry. The primary goal of films are to entertain and make money. Films depicting mental illness are often highly inaccurate in their portrayal, because their primary motivation isn’t to educate, but to use the disease as a plot device to entertain. Do not base your understanding of mental illness off of the entertainment industry. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT, also know as shock therapy) is not a horrific punishment. It is an effective treatment option for severe depression.
Above all, never be ashamed of suffering from a mental illness. You might have been dealt a more difficult card in life, but you were also gifted with a unique brain that may be blessed with an unconventionally fresh perspective
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The Crisis Text Line can be reached by texting BRAVE to 741-741. In addition to a variety of national and personalized hotlines, online resources can direct you to local therapists and group therapy meetings in your community. Need a simple way to start the discussion? Open up to a trusted friend or relative or have an honest discussion with your medical doctor.
If your friend or loved one opens up to you about their struggles, don’t feel pressured to offer advice if you do not feel qualified; sometimes it is enough to simply be heard.
Emma Polini is the managing editor of the Van Alstyne Leader, Anna-Melissa Tribune and Prosper Press. What do you want in your paper? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org to let her know.