Mental Health: Overcoming the Stigma of Mental Illness
When my son was diagnosed with serious mental illness, I was not prepared for how alone I would feel. I admit that my knowledge about mental illness was defined by negative stereotypes that are pervasive in TV and Movies. In short, I was afraid of the disease and did not know where to turn.
Mental illness is still surrounded by great stigma. It causes a huge burden on the patient, family, and friends to have to deal with negative reactions from others. The biggest burden is in feeling like you need to hide what is going on in your life. There is little understanding or sympathy readily available to you when you get the initial diagnosis in spite of the fact that four out of ten individuals will experience some form of mental illness during their lifetime. I used to say, "Give me cancer any day – I’ll trade. At least then neighbors and extended family would pay attention and be supportive.”
Here again, it is imperative that you gain as much education and information as possible so that you can be a reliable and effective advocate for your ill family member. I remember going to the high school my son was attending to meet with all of his teachers. He was receiving near failing grades from each of his teachers and they were frustrated with their inability to understand what was going on in his life.
I had done my research and knew what our rights were and I had facts about his illness. I patiently communicated with his teachers and helped them understand what he was struggling with in his life. He was eventually able to graduate from high school thanks to their support, understanding, and accommodation of his illness.
I was fortunate to serve as the state coordinator of the NAMI Anti-stigma Campaign. NAMI National had devised a campaign to educate the public about the true medical nature of mental illness. Their main goal was to increase awareness of these illnesses and to help insurance companies realize that they should be treated equally with any other illness. Minds and hearts were changed all over the country because of this campaign. Mental illness is now openly discussed and this helps alleviate some of the burden on patients and their loved ones.
5 Ways You Can Help Someone With Mental Illness
Here are five ways you can help someone with mental illness:
- Educate yourself about mental illness.
- Be willing to get involved.
- Contact your local NAMI or Mental Health Association to see how you can help.
- Join a support group to find others with your same concerns.
- Remember – if you don’t speak up, who will?
How can you overcome the stigma of mental illness? What resources have you found helpful for you and your family to better deal with the effects of mental illness?