I have over many years worked with and spent time with many great people who at some point in their life have suffered with their mental health. One thing that mental illness is really good at is making a person feel isolated and alone which is a perfect way for stigma and self-stigma to thrive.
Mental illness…just the thought of it seems to instil fear in many people because of the stigma associated with it. My question is, why?
Stigma is one of the most challenging aspects of living with a mental health condition. It causes people to feel ashamed for something that is out of their control and prevents many from speaking openly and seeking the help they need.
When people hear terms, like obesity, diabetes, stroke…they do have a different reaction to hearing the term mental illness. Diabetes and depression have a lot in common…after all both are due to an imbalance of chemicals—insulin for diabetes and ones such as serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine for depression, so what’s the difference?
The brain is our body’s most important organ and the fact is, mental illness is a disorder of the brain. One in four adults experience mental illness in a given year, Just like most diseases, there are many causes, from environmental/social/cultural factors to genetics and biological factors.
So what do we need to do?
Asking someone how they are emotionally is something we don’t tend to do, but if someone is not in a good place psychologically it will affect their physical health. People are afraid to open up because they worry what people will think of them that’s why it’s so important to start the conversation, talk and listen.
During one of my training sessions on the Change-It Progress to Success course, I asked one of the learners, how her mental health condition affected her life.
This was her reply:
‘My mental illness is no longer the problem for me. It’s how other people view me that’s the hard bit. Without knowing it, or even meaning to, I get a feeling that I’m of less value than they are, that my illness is my fault which is what really causes me to get upset and feel embarrassed.’
Learner: Change It – Progress to Success Training Course
The Language we use:
Have you ever heard or said something like:
'Why do you look so depressed, have you forgotten how to smile?'
'I need my room to be clean, I'm so OCD'
Put yourself in the shoes of someone facing one of these issues and hear that. How would you feel? The truth is, even if we mean no harm by the language we use, it can really affect others. Mental health awareness is growing but our understanding is not, but there is so much more to be done.
‘It's so common, it could be anyone. The trouble is, nobody wants to talk about it. And that makes everything worse.’ - Ruby Wax
Ruby has experienced depression and has continued to promote mental health awareness.
‘We need to take the stigma out of mental illness. People shouldn’t be ashamed of it” It used to be the ‘C’ word -cancer- that people wouldn’t discuss. Now it’s the ‘M’ word. I hope pretty soon it'll be okay for everyone to talk openly about their mental health without fear of being treated differently." 1 in 5 people have dandruff. 1 in 4 people have mental health problems. I’ve had both…’ - Ruby Wax
Conversations about mental health and mental illness need to be happening, and our understanding needs to get better. So next time you speak to someone who is suffering with a mental illness, think about the impact of your words, have the conversation, listen.
Mental Health is real so let’s stop the stigma
The Women's Organisation are pleased to offer the 'Change It' programme to support local women from all backgrounds, ages and stages of their lives to feel more positive about what they can achieve. Change It: Progress to Success is open to women in Liverpool who are looking for support to build a better world at home, at work or in relationships.