Putting an end to mental health stigma

MEENA RUGH / AGGIE

Both those with and without mental illness must feel comfortable talking about it

Mental health stigma is primarily composed of two sides: the surrounding society and the person who is experiencing the illness. On society’s side, people’s attitudes are characterized by prejudiced behavior and discrimination against those who have mental health problems. The person who’s struggling with their mental health holds a stigma about themselves that’s constructed of shame and embarrassment. This self-stigma forms by going through an illness that no one can actually see. People who are unfamiliar with symptoms of mental illnesses can overlook them and view a person who’s really struggling as someone who’s simply not having a good day. Mental illness, however, encompasses so much more than meets the eye. The symptoms and level of severity also vary among individual experiences.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), one in four young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 has a diagnosable mental illness. Those who experience a mental illness feel ashamed to openly talk about it or to ask for help because it has been deemed personal and a weakness. This stigma develops from the people on the outside not having sufficient knowledge on what it means to have a mental illness. However, this is also not something for which a person should be judged. Mental illnesses are shamed in society, shoved behind a closed door and unaddressed. The stigma of this topic causes it to be avoided in discussion — yet it should be at the top of the list in importance. With this in mind, it’s important to know that it’s possible to end the stigma.

We must, first of all, realize that a mental illness is exactly what it sounds like: an illness. Just because the symptoms are not visible to the eye does not devalue its need to be discussed. There are ways to take notice of symptoms, but they require close attention. If you notice unusual patterns in a friend’s behavior, reach out to them and ask how they’re doing. Due to stigma, many people don’t feel comfortable reaching out for help and sometimes hope that others will take notice of their behavior. When trying to help from the outside, it’s important to remember to not disregard how someone says they’re feeling. Remember to listen closely, not be quick to judge and ask questions with proper intention. The only way we gain knowledge about anything is asking questions. Stigma causes us to be afraid to discuss the subject; so, when talking to someone about it, realize that both sides are hesitant to speak up. People on the outside don’t want to overstep boundaries, while the person going through the experience feels ashamed for having the illness in the first place. It takes patience and close listening because it’s a sensitive topic.

For the people struggling with a mental illness, don’t be afraid to seek help. There’s no need to feel embarrassed or afraid that someone will judge you based on what you’re experiencing. Start small and confide in a friend you trust, and inform them so they may learn and lead you to useful resources. When you’re ready or feel the need for professional help, you can take advantage of the resources waiting for you.

As college students, it’s possible that the enormous amount of stress on our shoulders has a heavy, negative effect on our health. This is a topic that deserves to be addressed and no longer avoided. We’re an age group that’s highly affected by mental instability, so we must be support each other. We’ll each have our own unique experiences in college, but we’re also all here for the same reason. It’s important for us to help each other so that we can make it to the finish line together. Become informed, become a resource and aim to put an end to mental health stigma.

 

Written by: Jolena Pacheco — mspacheco@ucdavis.edu