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DESTIGMATIZE MENTAL ILLNESS; OUR DUTY TO DISPEL THE MYTHS AND WHY IT’S A DANGER TO NOT TO 2
Posted by SANE
16th Jan 2018

If someone approaches you with their struggles 

If someone trusts you enough to confide in you about their mental health, they’re not asking you to fix them or locate the cure, or even articulate the perfect phrase. It’s difficult to hear someone you care about is suffering, so nobody is asking for the ideal answer from you or about to quiz you on extensive A-Z knowledge of all mental health conditions along with all symptomatic behaviors involved. However, what is required, is a level of acceptance. If someone I loved informed me they had a physical illness I didn’t know much about, I wouldn’t simply discount it because of my lack of understanding regarding the cellular pathology of said disease. I’d like to think I’d offer compassion, support and would NOT imply this person had to justify or prove their condition. People suffering from MH issues often are aware of what resources are available (exercise, good diet, seeing friends etc.) that can help, this doesn’t mean this is easy, and please don’t assume someone isn’t trying because they don’t always follow your advice. Sometimes people don’t want advice at all, they just want to be heard and accepted.

I conducted the following Poll via twitter to gain insight into how many people affected by mental health issues had experienced some form of dismissal from their social environment. Unsurprisingly 91% answered yes, demonstrating the unacceptable and disturbing reality for those who suffer. If we as a society fail to comply in terms of supporting MH, the percentage will remain at this unnerving amount.

 

It takes copious amounts of courage to confide in someone else about something so personal, so if someone does choose to talk to you, don’t dismiss it or patronise them. As I have hopefully conveyed in this post, this is dangerous. Their illness won’t evaporate because you have blocked it out your own mind. Think about how your attitude affects another’s experience.

Scientific advances 

Scientifically, the brain – in relation to mental illness, has become understood at a much more in-depth level. Therapies like CBT (Cognitive behavioral therapy) and alternative psychological therapies are based on scientific evidence.  Whilst neuroscientists are learning more and more, there are still people denying mental health conditions even exist, let alone entertain the idea that these are serious illnesses. This, unambiguously creates a barrier  in accepting mental illness for what it is. It feeds the stigma and ignorance, and resists scientific evidence that could really change lives.

“Part of the problem…is that that many people still challenge the idea of psychological treatments as scientific and are unaware of the evidence base.” – CBU blog.

Neuroscience is uncovering significant breakthroughs and is set to accelerate its knowledge further as we understand more and more about the brain. There is now an  increased sophistication in technology and there are already signs that show patients with PTSD can have smaller volumes of the hippocampus; I believe advances are likely to mean vast developments (for example neuroimaging) and provide even more neurological evidence of how mental illness presents itself in the brain. Mental illness can be complex to diagnose, and it’s true that visually they can be more challenging to identify than physical diseases. However, this doesn’t mean we deny their existence, rather we should be encouraging greater understanding in order to more accurately appreciate each patient’s condition. I will discuss professional healthcare and funding in a later post, but my goal in this article is to emphasise the way avoidant attitudes intercept positive progression. With all the amazing technological resources increasingly available there is great potential for us to be a society where mental health is addressed appropriately.

Doing our part

I am grateful for those who accept and appreciate mental illness as a real illness. Thank you to all those who understand and are working against stigma. 

My plea is to those who don’t understand, who may make these comments without even thinking or may soon be a friend to someone who is struggling. It is not about walking on eggshells around someone who suffers – just ask yourself the question, would I say this to someone suffering from a physical condition? Through lack of knowledge, research and acceptance there has been and still is stigma around MH. Knowledge, research and acceptance is on the increase and it’s our duty to ensure we increase acceptance and look after our friends  and family. There’s a strong chance someone you know is affected, so start there. Or just start with yourself and how you view mental illness. Maybe you suffer yourself and have been feeling like you don’t deserve support. You  definitely do and it’s your birthright to get it. I recently engaged with someone who disagreed with me about the existence of Mental Illness. I was asked why I was giving him the time of day. I realised, we can’t not give these attitudes the time of day. How else can we stimulate positive change? When choosing to educate others about your illness, be mindful of your own well being as this comes first. People may challenge you and it may provoke further invalidating comments, so if this person becomes toxic in the conversation then take care of yourself and leave the situation.

Just don’t give up. In time, I am hopeful with perseverance and determination we will be unified as a society that appreciates the severity of mental illness. We need to educate schools, colleges, universities and the work place.

Mental illness can affect a person’s ability to function, it can destroy relationships, interfere with work/hobbies and it can kill. It is a paradox in which you’re constantly trying to prove your illness  to others while trying to make sense of it yourself. It is vital we don’t wait until someone is about to die before we say with words or actions that we take them seriously. Chester Bennington, Robin Williams and Chris Cornell are a devastating testimony to this.

The bigger picture is that stigma leads to increased amount of pain for those suffering; it’s pushing people to the edge who are already running out of will to live.

I’m not asking you to fix anyone, just please, think about what you say before you unknowingly invalidate another person’s pain.

 

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