- 14 million people die of cancer every year
- 25 million people have asthma
- 29.1 million people develop diabetes
- 53 million people have arthritis
- 61.5 million have a mental illness
So, I have to ask, if 61.5 million Americans are struggling with a mental illness, making it more common than diabetes or asthma, why is it that those people are still often afraid to discuss it?
I imagine it is because there is still a stigma surrounding mental illness, making people afraid of being labeled as crazy or being told they should just get over it. I think people are afraid of being seen as weak-minded or unable to cope.
Mental Illness is NOT Mental Weakness
Each of these are diagnosed illnesses. They are not weaknesses. They are illnesses. We need to start viewing them as such.
It's time to educate ourselves about how chemical imbalances in the brain determine mental illnesses. And then when we begin to see mental illness as a disease of the brain just like lung cancer is a disease of the lungs and arthritis is inflammation of the joints, maybe the stigma will go away.
#imnotashamed to live with my mental health conditions because our minds are a part of our bodies, so we shouldn't consider physical and mental health as separate. I don't view my mental illnesses as different from my asthma or my allergies. -@soupernic
If you struggle with a mental illness, I commit to you that I will speak out to educate others every chance I get, starting with this blog, and I want to encourage others to join me.
To begin, here are some things to look out for so you don't offend others.
What Not to Say
Here's one tip. Often people ignorantly say hurtful things without even realizing that we are feeding into the stigma surrounding mental illness and possibly offending people who are struggling:
- "You're so bipolar." To someone who simply changed moods.
- "I almost had a panic attack." After someone scares you.
- "What are you, OCD?" When someone wants something done neatly.
- "I'm so depressed I didn't get those new shoes." After a failed shopping trip.
To people truly struggling with any one of these issues, a flippant statement devalues the seriousness of the issue they are facing and adds stigma to the illness. While you may not mean any harm don't just assume no one will get offended by these statements.
I deserve love & respect & to not be stereotyped/stigmatized. I am a whole, beautiful person. #imnotashamed #mentalhealth @rachelgriffin22
You Don't Need to Be Ashamed
The idea behind the campaign #imnotashamed is to spread the message that mental health conditions are nothing to be ashamed of. They are not a choice, character flaw, or mental weakness. We are helping end the harmful stigma associated with mental health conditions.
#imnotashamed of my mental illness because I believe that my mental illness has made me an incredibly strong, empathic, courageous and brave woman. -@sharigebhard
It is a positive step to be able to share your mental illness without shame and realize you are not alone. Check out what others are saying who are not ashamed! Add your voice to the conversation by tweeting your story with #imnotashamed. Or tweet one of the quotes you see here:
#imnotashamed of my bipolar “mental illness is an illness just like any other, a flaw in chemistry not character. @Detroit15
Moving Beyond the Stigma
If you are struggling with a mental illness, here are some important steps for coping with and moving beyond the stigma:
- Don't let the fear of judgment keep you from getting treatment. In my opinion, the number one reason to stomp out the stigma surrounding mental illness is so that people will not be afraid to seek treatment. So many people facing mental illness are reluctant to admit they need help. Half of the teens and young adults who have a mental illness develop their condition by the age of 14. This can be a scary and confusing time when you start to fear your own mind. PLEASE don't let the fear of being labeled with a mental illness prevent you from seeking help. Treatment can provide relief by identifying what's wrong and reducing symptoms that interfere with your life. If you attempt to ignore the problem, it can take over your life.
- Don't believe the stigma yourself. Sometimes you are your toughest critic. Stigma doesn't just come from others. You may mistakenly believe that your condition is a sign of personal mental weakness or that you should be able to control it without help.
- Don't equate yourself with your illness. You are not an illness. So instead of saying "I'm bipolar," say "I have bipolar disorder."
- Find a support group and talk to someone. If you would like to find either online or in person support group options, check out our list of partners or chat with a Hope Coach now.
- Speak up. Don’t be afraid to open up. Even a struggle as difficult as depression and suicidal thoughts can end. Suicide is preventable. Being open can actually save lives. Talking about your treatment and struggles can inspire someone else to get help and show them that they are not alone in their journey to recovery.
- See the stigma for what it is - ignorance. People who pass judgment and believe the stigma surrounding mental illness almost always have a lack of understanding rather than information based on the facts. You know the truth.
How to Help a Friend
If you know someone who has a mental illness, here's how you can make a difference:
- Educate yourself about mental illness
- Speak up when you hear something offensive
- See the person not the illness
- Provide love, care and encouragement to someone with a mental illness without judgment
If you struggle with a mental illness, I'd love for you to share below if you have ever experienced being stigmatized? What has someone said to you that you found offensive? Please speak up and use your voice to educate others in the comments below. Or share your own #imnotashamed statement. It's time to start the conversation.
Health statistics found at www.CDC.gov