How To Fight the Stigma of Mental Health: Part I

How can we fight against the stigma of mental illness – a surmounting task? I hope to do a multi-part segment on ways that one can combat the stigma of mental health conditions. The first point I will bring up is the power of analogies to physical illness.

I was a private math and science tutor for two years. Hands down, the best way to teach a student something they didn’t know was to put it in terms of what they already understood.

The vast majority of the world does not understand mental illness – including people who have mental illness themselves. But if you put it in terms of what people already know – physical illness – you will make greater strides in conveying the message that mental disorders are real disorders that affect the brain the same way other illnesses affect the heart, or lungs, or kidneys, etc.

I use this technique when I speak to various audiences, including the people I serve in the community mental health system. I explain that mental illness is a lifelong illness, just like physical illnesses. Mental health requires healing and self-monitoring, which can consist of medication and therapy. Is taking pills for diabetes something to be ashamed of? Is going to the hospital after having a heart attack different than going to the hospital for a mental breakdown? Is knowing the symptoms of your mental illness as necessary as knowing the symptoms of a physical health condition, even a stroke or heart attack?

When I put mental health in terms of physical health terminology and principles, people start to nod their heads, with an occasional “ahh” or “mm-hmm.”

To make strides towards eliminating stigma – to work hard to combat the stigma of mental health – let’s work together with these suggestions.

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