Repeat after me: I am not my diagnosis.
Repeat after me: I am enough.
Mental health interferes with a person’s life. It changes how a person thinks, feels and acts. Mental health is a disorder of the brain. Talking about mental health is taboo and not just here in the United States, but all around the world. This doesn’t surprise me though, based upon the stigma that is associated with mental health, like the stigmatizing words that are thrown around like confetti at a birthday party. Stigmatizing words such as calling someone psycho, crazy, or retarded. Telling someone their mental health is too much to handle. It adds to the stigma that exists in our communities and does more harm than good. Stigmas such as these come with misguided beliefs and interpretations that individuals living with mental illnesses are “different” than everyone else, when in actuality, they are not. Stigmas, unfortunately, reflect attitudes and beliefs that lead to discrimination. Because of the mental health stigma that exists, individuals living with mental illnesses experience:
Reluctancy to seek treatment, such as therapy or medication management
A lack of support and understanding from family, friends and colleagues
Bullying, physical violence, or harassment
Inadequate health insurance that does not cover mental health services
The belief that their situation is permanent, not temporary, which can lead to self-harm and/or suicidal ideation
No one is exempt from mental health, similar to how no one is exempt from COVID-19, the flu, a head cold, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, etc. While mental health does not discriminate, mental health is thought to be caused by a variety of genetic and environmental factors, such as inherited traits, environmental exposures, and brain chemistry. Certain factors may increase the risk of developing a mental illness, such as:
Family history of mental illness
Stressful life situations, such as financial concerns, a death, or divorce
Ongoing medical conditions, such as diabetes, obesity or migraines
Traumatic brain injury
Use of alcohol or recreational drugs
Childhood history of abuse or neglect
Isolation and lack of friends or healthy relationships
A previous mental illness
According to the CDC, statistics show:
More than 50% of individuals will be diagnosed with a mental health disorder at some point in their lifetime
1 in 5 Americans will experience challenges with their mental health in any given year
1 in 25 Americans live with a serious and persistent mental illness
Approximately 4.5 million children (ages 3-17 years old) have a diagnosed behavioral disorder
Approximately 4.4 million children (ages 3-17 years old) have diagnosed anxiety
Approximately 1.9 million children (ages 3-17 years old) have diagnosed depression
The stigma that is associated with mental health matters. It affects people who are living with mental illness and their families. Accept my challenge: see the person, not their disorder. Person first language is essential for destigmatizing mental health. An individual living with mental illness is living with mental illness. It is not who they are, it does not define them. It is part of their life, it is part of their journey.
Be part of ending the stigma. Educate yourself. Ask questions. Listen to understand, not to respond. Be conscious to not use stigmatizing words and if you do, acknowledge that. Breathe first, apologize second. Ask questions to understand and thank the person who informed you for their honesty and bravery.
It is not understanding mental health or helping individuals living with mental illness that we should fear. It is what happens if we don’t help that we should fear. What happens if we don’t provide support, empathy and compassion to our family, friends or strangers?
Everyone has a different set of struggles. Everyone is unique. Everyone has a different story. Everyone also possesses strength and courage when sharing their story. Listen to understand the whole story. Honor the trust the person is giving you by sharing their story because they are providing you a spot in their journey.
“Don’t be ashamed of your story. It will inspire others.” – Unknown
If you feel like sharing it, I would love to hear your story. If, and when, you are ready to, you can email me your story at firstname.lastname@example.org