I recently attended training for QPR: Question, Persuade, Refer: Suicide Prevention. In the course, we learned how to talk with someone going through a crisis and how to get them the help they needed. The steps were pretty straight forward: question if the person has suicidal intent, persuade them to get help, and refer them to someone who is trained to help in that kind of situation. But when it came time for role play to practice what we’d learned, it was hard for most people to get through the first step of questioning the person. When we discussed why it was so hard for so many in the class, the most common response was that it seemed so harsh to just come right out and ask, “Are you thinking of suicide?” because of the stigma surrounding suicide and mental health as a whole.
Stigma is when someone views you in a negative way because you have a distinguishing characteristic or personal trait that’s thought to be, or actually is, a disadvantage. Stigma causes people to feel ashamed for something that is out of their control and it prevents them from seeking the help they need. Others’ judgements almost always stem from a lack of understanding rather than information based on facts. Below are some ways that we can fight mental health stigma so it becomes as common to talk about as any other physical illness.
- Educate yourself and others. Whether you are sharing your personal experience or something you have seen happen to someone else, make sure people have the correct facts.
- Encourage equality between physical and mental illness. More Americans suffer from depression than coronary heart disease, cancer, and HIV/AIDS so it is time we start talking about it as if it were as normal as a physical illness.
- Be conscious of language. Treat everyone as human beings first. Their mental illness does not define who they are. They are not a depressed person; they are a person who is suffering from depression.
- Don’t isolate yourself. If you have a mental illness, don’t be reluctant to tell someone about it. Confiding in those you trust can help you move forward with your treatment.
- Join a support group. Some local and national groups, such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), offer local programs and internet resources that help reduce stigma by educating people who have mental illness, their families, and the general public.
Kailey Kocourek, Project Coordinator for The Kim Foundation
Kailey joined The Kim Foundation in July 2018 as the Project Coordinator. She received her Bachelor’s Degree from UNO in Public Health and is currently working towards her Master’s in Public Health from UNMC, expecting to graduate in May 2019. She was drawn to the non-profit world because of her passion for helping and educating others. In her spare time, she enjoys baking and spending time with her husband, Ethan, and two children, Kaiden and Emry.