The word “stigma” is a word many of us are familiar with, especially if you spend any amount of time in the behavioral health field. According to www.dictionary.com stigma is “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person”. For the purpose of this article, we are using stigma to be associated with mental illness. Unfortunately, there has always been a stigma attached to mental illness. It has decreased over the years, as our view of mental illness has changed and evolved. We now have a deeper understanding of mental illness and what individuals who have a mental illness need to heal and recover. There is absolutely no reason why any person who has a mental illness should feel disgrace as the definition of stigma suggests.
There are numerous things we can all do to end the stigma associated with mental health conditions. It is important we all continue to work to end the stigma, so that any person who has a mental health problem feels like they can get the help they need.
One thing we can do is to educate ourselves. For instance, did you know that 1 in 5 adults in the United States experience a mental illness? ( https://www.nami.org/mhstats) It is important to know the prevalence of mental health conditions, but also to educate ourselves on what exactly mental illness is. You can go to our website, https://www.thekimfoundation.org/mental-illness/ to learn more. Education is one way we can all continue to break down the stigma.
Another step we can take is to normalize conversations surrounding mental health. If there are any silver linings with the COVID-19 pandemic, that might just be one. Because of the isolation people are dealing with, many people are beginning to talk about the importance of mental health. We must continue these conversations, even after the pandemic is over. The more conversations we have surrounding mental health, the more it will become normalized, and the more likely someone is going to be to reach out for help. It might seem scary to approach a conversation on mental health, but you absolutely do not need to be an expert, you just need to care.
One other way we can continue to fight to end the stigma is to be aware of the language we use. Language is a powerful tool we use each and every day. We have the ability to break down the stigma simply by the words we say. Using people-first language is a simple thing we can all do which will further break down the stigma. People-first language simply puts the person first before the mental illness. An example of this would be saying a person who has depression versus a depressed person. It is also important in our language to avoid words like “crazy” or “psycho” when describing someone who has a mental illness. These words are very stigmatizing and are not accurate descriptions of someone who has a mental illness. Our words truly do matter and through our words we can break down the stigma and encourage help-seeking behaviors for people who have a mental health condition.
There are truly so many different things we can all do to end the stigma that is associated with mental illness. Ultimately, it comes down to awareness and support. By increasing our awareness and providing support to loved ones, we can ALL end the stigma. If we can end the stigma, then any individual who is struggling with a mental health condition will feel like they can get the help they need and absolutely deserve.
Katie Zimmerman, Project Coordinator for The Kim Foundation
Katie Zimmerman joined The Kim Foundation in June 2019. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Communication Studies and Sociology from Central College in Pella, Iowa. During her time in college, she volunteered at many non-profit organizations and took multiple sociology classes which focused on mental health. Katie’s role at The Kim Foundation includes running the social media accounts, assisting in the Youth Advisory Council, and providing mental health awareness and education to the community through A Voice for Hope and Healing presentations.