Mental Health and Stigma…Where do I stand?

StigmaDo you stigmatize mental illness? Does someone you know? How does that impact you? Others? 

Many of us think we are totally accepting and don’t have any stigma left when it comes to mental health issues, and for some of us that may be true- but is it for you?

 

Answer these five questions and find out for yourself!

1. What is mental illness? What does it look like?

2. What have my past experiences with mental health issues been? (personally or with friends, family, neighbors etc). What do I think their lives were like?

3. What do I think causes mental illness? 

4. How do I interact with people with mental health concerns?

5. How do my beliefs impact my willingness to access mental illness for myself? Others? 

 

So let’s look at these one by one…

 1. What is mental illness? What does it look like?

When people think of mental illness, they often think of this…

This…

Or this…

But what about this?

Did you consider this?

People often think of mental illness as schizophrenia, bipolar or severe drug addiction. They often don’t think about depression, or anxiety which can be equally impairing and are much more prevalent! Mental illness of some sort impacts 1/5 Canadians! Look around you, think of the people in your life, who do you think may be affected? It could even include you.

2. What have my past experiences with mental health issues been? (personally or with friends, family, neighbors etc). What do I think their lives were like?

Only you can answer this one, but as you reflect on this, consider what is your body’s response when you think of these memories? Does your body recoil? Is it uncomfortable? Do you get anxious? What kinds of thoughts or feelings come up for you? Compassion? Helplessness? Anger? Shame? Avoidance? 

3. What do I think causes mental illness? 

The truth is that whether mental health issues come up is a result of delicate interaction between our genetic predispositions and our environmental stressors (life experiences).

Some mental health issues have a bigger genetic contribution than others and we know that there are certain things that can encourage mental health issues to manifest.

For example, there is a link between substance abuse (drug use) and psychosis, anxiety and mood issues and we know that early life trauma, feeling unprotected, unsafe (whether from neglect, abuse or just growing up in a volatile or unpredictable environment) can significantly predispose us to mental illness of all kinds also. Significant traumatic events at anytime can also predispose to mental illness.

4. How do I interact with people with mental health concerns?

When answering this, think of how you respond to people who you think have mental illness? Do you get frustrated? Angry? Do you treat them like a child? Do you talk down to them? Do you speak loudly or slowly?

Or do you validate THEIR experience, treat them with RESPECT, EMPOWER them to make the decisions they are able to make, and treat them like they are more than just their illness? After all, there is danger in a single story, for ourselves or others (see post “The Danger of a Single Story“).

5. How do my beliefs impact my willingness to access mental illness for myself? Others? 

As you saw in one of the videos above, we or our families can be very reluctant to see that we or our loved ones are struggling. At its’ worst, this can have fatal consequences and  at its’ best causes unnecessary pain and suffering.

If you were to imagine a picture frame and you were to paint how much room anxiety, mood issues, psychosis, and/ or drugs occupied within that frame, what would it look like for you? For your loved ones?

Is that a problem for you? For them?

If so, talk to someone, find out how to get help, our life is worth LIVING, not just SURVIVING.

Please share your questions and comments by email, post a comment or send a tweet @DrAdrianaWilson. See you next week!