One in five. That’s the number of adults in the U.S. who experience a mental illness. That’s 18.5% of the U.S. adult population, or 43.8 million people. And mental illness doesn’t discriminate; it’s an equal-opportunity illness. But here’s the really upsetting statistic: only 41% of people with a mental illness seek treatment. And, with the right treatment, recovery can be a reality for those with mental illness.
But why do so few seek the help they need? Is it stigma – fear of being labeled, viewed negatively, stereotyped, or marginalized because of their diagnosis?
Fifty years ago, people were afraid to come out and admit that they had breast cancer. Stigma surrounded the diagnosis and it was frowned upon to talk about it. But today, sharing one’s story of breast cancer is a badge of courage; survivors are seen as heroes, and rightfully so. That negative stigma about breast cancer? It’s gone. How can we get to this same place with mental illness? It’s time to make a change in our society.
To help encourage those that need help to seek out treatment, we need to collectively fight the stigma surrounding mental illness. But how can you help do this? Read on for tips on how to be a #StigmaFighter:
- Talk about mental health with others. Don’t be afraid to bring up mental health in your day-to-day conversations. Show that it is not a topic that should be swept under the rug. Share your story as you’re comfortable, and encourage others to do the same.
- Practice self-acceptance. If you live with a mental illness, the biggest thing you can do to fight stigma is to love and accept yourself for who you are. This will inspire others around you, who may even follow your example.
- Stand up for yourself and others. Hurtful, stigmatizing words can be the norm in casual conversation, but you can help stop that. The next time a friend jokingly uses the term “psycho” or “crazy,” correct them. These aren’t words to be taken lightly.
- Advocate for mental health reform. We don’t call physical health care “physical.” It’s just “health care.” So why do we label mental health care as “mental?” It’s just as important. Until access to mental health care is made the norm in the U.S, stigma will persist. Write your local legislators to push for mental health care reform to show people living with mental illness that their health matters.
- Educate yourself and others. There are so many myths about mental illness that persist because people just haven’t educated themselves. Learn the facts so you can help dispel those myths. This blog is a good place to start. If you learn something new, share it with your friends and family—social media can be a powerful tool for sharing, too.
- Don’t judge a person by their illness. A mental disorder is not what defines a person. If you learn that someone close to you has a mental illness, be open to talking about it with them—but don’t make assumptions about them based on stereotypes associated with their diagnosis.