Breaking the Stigma

Mental illness remains the taboo of our society.

When someone says they have a mental illness, many people automatically believe the individual is crazy or unstable.

As a society and as a community, we must understand that mental illnesses are not as bad as they’re made out to be. Some people live their daily lives without others knowing they have been diagnosed as mentally ill.

We should grow in ways that help those with mental illnesses and find ways to make them feel comfortable in society, instead of viewing them as outsiders.

One in five adults in the United States will experience a mental illness in a given year, according to the National Alliance of Mental Illnesses. That’s about 43.8 million people.

An additional one in 25 U.S. adults will experience a serious mental illness that interferes with or limits major life activities. That’s about 10 million people.

With such high numbers, one would hope society is doing more to normalize mental illness. Unfortunately, it seems we are not.

I didn’t think much about mental illness until I enrolled in an abnormal psychology class. Everything changed when we learned about mental illnesses. My studies provided insight, which started making me more passionate about the subject.

As part of our curriculum, NAMI individuals diagnosed with a mental illness visited the class.

They told us stories about their “dark days,” when they first began to experience a mental illness. They moved on to telling us how they grew from that and were able to continue their lives. One visitor shared his hopes for the future: an end to the stigma that mental illness incapacitates an individual.

He hopes for a day when those with mental illnesses can have checkups with a doctor in the same way in which one would have a physical examination.

His point is worth repeating. People do not become their illness. They are still human beings.


One thought on “Breaking the Stigma”

  1. Do you by any chance mean, educate people who direct that prejudice?

    Harold A. Maio, retired mental health editor

    The Importance of Language
    “Advocacy For”
    Harold A. Maio

    “Advocacy For” is the positive use of language to achieve positive goals. It is measured by the frequency of positive affirmations, the infrequency of negatives. As simple as that seems, recognizing the positives and the negatives in a society which confuses the two is often difficult.

    The use of positives must be deliberate, constant, and consistent, for it takes many positives to overcome one single negative. Though it is a rule of “Advocacy For” to present the positive, sometimes negatives are so well
    established, focusing on them can bring them clearly to peoples’ consciousness.

    In the simplest, most common of metaphors lie the most powerful negatives.

    A First Primer of “Don’ts”
    • Avoid the intransitive verbs “are” or “is” and thereby avoid the offensive labeling of people as “schizophrenics” or “a schizophrenic.” Instead, use person-centered language and name the illness, such as “He/she has schizophrenia.”
    • Avoid the articles “the”, “a”, and thereby avoid “the” mentally ill, “a” depressive. Use “person-centered” language, such as “people with bipolar disorder” or an “individual with depression.”
    • Avoid using adjectives that label people. Instead, use substantives, naming their conditions.
    • Avoid “mental illness”. Whenever you can use the fully informative, specific diagnosis.
    • Avoid “mental illness” in the singular. Use the plural, “mental illnesses ”
    as there are many.
    • Avoid “mental” illness. Whenever possible, use illness instead. They are illnesses.
    • Avoid the innuendo “stigma”, it victimizes. Use instead “prejudice” or “discrimination,” specifics which can be concretely addressed or redressed.
    • Avoid recounting “myths,” as they are repeated in folk cultures well known, instead inform and educate to truths.
    • Avoid what is “not” true, educate to truths.

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