How You Can Help Reduce the Stigma Surrounding Mental Illness

Stigma is rife throughout our society and takes many different forms such as racial prejudice and religious preference.  It is made up of lots of different parts like people’s attitudes, beliefs and behavior but what they all have in common is that they are all negative towards the subject.

People who suffer from mental illness have to constantly battle against stigma in their everyday lives.  It might show itself through derogatory comments or disrespectful behavior and if the person is already feeling depressed or lacking self-esteem then these attitudes will only reinforce those negative feelings. If we all take time to understand what stigma means and why it occurs, we are much more likely to move towards its elimination.

Think Before You Speak

You might not think it but the language you use towards people can have a significant effect on their well-being.  The obvious examples of this are the negative terms used to describe people with mental illnesses such as “nut job” or “retarded” but there can be negative connotations which aren’t so obvious.  A lot of people use diagnostic terms to describe certain behaviors, for instance ‘that’s so OCD’ and this could really offend someone who does actually suffer from that illness.  It is also common for people to label others as being an illness e.g. ‘he’s bipolar’, which is insinuating that the illness defines the person.  Instead it’s better to use person-first language like ‘he has bipolar disorder’ as this recognizes that the person is a human being and not a diagnosis.

Don’t Be Afraid of Mental Illness

The saying goes that fear breeds ignorance and this is particularly true with mental illness.  There are many stereotypes surrounding mental illness and one of the most common is that that people who have a mental illness can be dangerous or unpredictable.  Sometimes they might display unusual behaviors when their illness is more severe but they aren’t more likely to be violent than the general population.

People who work in the healthcare profession have told of patients who are receiving medical care due to mental illness being violent or abusive towards the nurses.  Many people are quick to label the patient as ‘attention-seeking’ or ‘uncooperative’ however what they often fail to realize is that aggression is their only way to communicate when all other communication has failed.  A nurse who is able to remain nonjudgmental and empathetic in these situations will be more successful in calming the patient and addressing their needs.  These are simple skills that can be learnt on online doctoral nursing programs such as those offered at Bradley University.

Be a Role Model

Establishing these stigma-reducing strategies places you in a better position to be able to educate others.  Stigma is often fueled by lack of awareness so talk to your friends, family or co-workers about mental illness and challenge them if they use negative language.  Education is a vital step towards self-awareness so why not consider studying a course within the healthcare sector such as an online nurse practitioner doctorate degree.

Often people are unaware of the effect their behavior can have on others but by explaining this to them and suggesting ways they could change their attitudes you’ll be helping to bring about a positive shift in how we treat others.