Stand up to Stigma

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If you have a cold or flu, you go see a doctor. If you break a bone you go to the emergency room. If you have a toothache you go to the dentist.

All of these involve seeking professional help, but none of them are regarded as “strange” or “abnormal.” But what about when you face a mental health issue? What do you do then?If your answer is “seek help” then you are on the right track! If not, it is something you should consider.

While young adulthood (otherwise known as college-aged) is characterized by an ever developing mind, more and more of those minds are developing mental illnesses.

1 in 4 college aged-students (18-24) have a diagnosable mental illness, but two thirds of students who are experiencing this do not seek help, according to a the 2015 spring assessment of the American College Health Association. Commonly, people will either ignore their mental health concerns or try to “figure them out” on their own.

Imagine breaking a bone and trying to drink milk to fix it or trying to correct a severe cavity with mouthwash – you probably wouldn’t try either of these methods. Yet, we may try to apply this same logic, and these individual and so called “healthy practices” with our brains. While challenging ourselves is good for us, failing to seek help when we are struggling may not be what we need. Sometimes we need to seek out the support of a professional – whether that is a dentist or a counselor. Getting enough sleep and eating right are always good health practices but for someone who is experiencing a depression, this may not be enough.

So why do we try to face these issues on our own when we know that our brains needs check-ups just like our bodies. Many of us are reluctant to make time to check in on our mental health. Seeking help for any mental health issue isn’t showing weakness – if anything, it shows strength. However, one major roadblock for many students may be the stigma surrounding mental health.

What is stigma? Why does it need to go?

 Stigma is when a person senses feelings of shame for experiencing a certain condition or illness (like depression or an eating disorder). It may feel like others are ‘looking down’ on them or even that they look down on themselves.

According to a study by Peter Byrne in advances of Psychiatric Treatment journal, a stigma is anything that produces these feelings of shame and can cause isolation, setting one person apart from another.

There are two kinds of stigma that someone with a mental health issue may face. The first is a social stigma when someone may experience discriminating behavior towards a person as a result of their mental health issue. The other kind of stigma is a self-stigma, this is the internalization of perceived feelings of prejudice due to the condition.

All of the stigma surrounding mental health causes people to view their own and other people’s mental health negatively thus resulting in a lack of seeking help.

Steps you can take to reduce stigma!

Just because this stigma exists does not mean there is nothing we can do to reduce and ultimately end it. The National Alliance of Mental Illness has highlighted many ways each of us can work to reduce this stigma everyday!

  1.  Be open about mental health.

Mental health is not taboo to talk about and you do not have to treat it like it is. Talking openly and honestly about your own experience with mental illness will let others know that they are not alone. This can empower others to share their own stories and experiences.

  1. Be conscious about language.

While sticks and stones may break bones, words can change the way a culture views mental illness. The way we speak about it influences how others feel and speak about mental illness. Refrain from labeling people with their mental illness. Instead, try “person first” language. For example, change “he’s bipolar” to “he has a bipolar disorder.” After all, people are people, and should not be defined by their diagnosis. 

  1. Educate yourself and others

Understanding mental illness is vital to breaking down the stigma. By learning the facts instead of accepting myths you can help teach others. One alone cannot end

the stigma, but one can make a difference and empower others to do the same.

If you are looking for more information about mental illness or if you are concerned about yourself or a friend, resources are available! Stop by the Center for Health and Wellness Promotion in UC 161 or the Counseling Center in Serra 300.