Stop the stigma of mental health issues and disorders

Mental health

Lucy Belanger, M.Ed.

What is stigma?

Stigma is considered a mark of shame, disgrace or disapproval from others as well as directed towards oneself. Stigma is a form of discrimination that many people with mental health issues struggle with. Self-stigma occurs when an individual internalizes negative attitudes about their mental health resulting in acceptance of poor treatment by others, negative coping strategies, secrecy and withdrawal.

Impact of Stigma

People struggling with a mental health issues often suffer because of stigma and consequently they may feel rejected by family, friends, colleagues, and the community as a whole.

Stigma has a negative impact on people with mental health issues in the following ways:

• Less likely to seek treatment
• Are often not employed or under-employed
• Discrimination in the workplace prevents them from reaching full professional and/or personal potential
• Diminished self-worth, increased isolation and hopelessness
• Family members also impacted with stigma by association

Five Steps to Stop Stigma – for the person with mental health issues

Step 1: Talk about it
Start with your intimate circle of family and friends. Describe what it’s like to have a mental health issue and the impact that it has on you.

Step 2: Be aware of your language
Words have meaning and reflect attitudes and beliefs. Be careful of the language you use that may self-stigmatize. If you speak of yourself in positive terms you are setting an example for others to do the same.

Step 3: Normalize mental health
Talk about mental health using an analogy to physical health. If you have a broken leg you seek treatment. The same goes for mental health issues. It’s useful to create a comparison between physical illness and mental health issues. Each requires treatment and support.

Step 4: Seek support and treatment
Most people who struggle with mental health require some sort of support and/or treatment. Reach out to a trusted friend or family member to help you find the services you need if you are feeling overwhelmed. It will also help to have someone to be accountable to, to ensure that you are getting the help you deserve.

Step 5: Become a mental health champion
There’s no better way to learn about the personal impact of mental health issues, than to describe your own lived experience. Discussing your treatment and recovery can provide hope for others.

Five Steps to Stop Stigma – for friends, family, and colleagues

Step 1: Talk about it
Have conversations that seek first to understand the lived experience of the person with mental health issues. Perhaps start with, “I’ve noticed that you are not quite yourself. Would you like to talk about it?” Ask questions about what it’s like for them and how you can best support them.

Step 2: Be aware of your language
Words have meaning and reflect attitudes and beliefs. Be careful of the adjectives used to describe mental health. Be respectful in how you speak about individuals struggling with mental health issues.

Step 3: Educate yourself
If you have a family member, friend, or colleague who struggles with mental health, educate yourself on that particular condition to learn about onset, duration, treatment, etc. Let them know that you care enough about them that you want to learn more.

Step 4: Include others
Inclusion counteracts the shame and embarrassment that many people with mental health experience. Including people in familial, workplace, and/or community activities goes a long way to bridging the gap.

Step 5: Become a mental health champion
Become an advocate for others by participating in workplace or community-based mental health initiatives. Champion wellness by being a good role model of what is required to maintain positive mental health.

Lucy Belanger, M.Ed.

Lucy Belanger, M. Ed. is the Social Wellness Subject Matter Expert with Strengthening the Forces (STF), the CAF health promotion program, and she works on the promotion of positive mental health and social wellness.
STF is CAF/DND’s healthy lifestyles promotion program providing expert information, skills and tools for promoting and improving CAF members’ health and well-being.

STF offers Subject Matter Expertise in four core areas of interest: Active Living, Nutrition, Addiction Free Living, and Social Wellness.