Challenging the Stigma Around Mental Illness
As a therapist, I face the stigma around mental illness on a daily basis. I find it so frustrating that our world often views mental illness in an entirely different light than physical illness. So, as May is Mental Health Awareness Month, I’m coming in to squelch some stigmas and normalize mental illness. Here are a few myths about mental illness and mental health that I come across often, along with how I challenge them.
1. Myth: Having a mental illness is less serious than a physical illness.
Of course, there are varying degrees of different mental and physical illnesses, but on the whole, these illnesses are just as serious as one another. Yet, the stigma still exists that mental illness isn’t as serious as physical illness, or that it is “all in your head”. If we fell and think we broke our ankle, we likely don’t have to think twice about going to the doctor for it. But, when our mental health takes a major fall, we might struggle to take it as seriously. The National Institute of Mental Health cites suicide as the tenth leading cause of death overall in the United States. To me, that is pretty darn serious. Just because mental illness isn’t something that we can often see, it doesn’t mean that it isn’t something that is severely felt.
2. Myth: Having a mental illness means something is wrong with you.
This is probably the most common mental health stigma I see in my work. Frequently, clients come in to therapy feeling like something is wrong with them for needing therapy. It can be easy to think that a mental illness is abnormal because of the word “illness”, but it is so much more common than we think. Most people struggle with some form of anxiety, depression, or other diagnosis at some point in their life. Just like it’s normal to have a physical illness from time to time, mental illness is also normal and common. And, just like it’s normal to get a physical check up every year, it can be normal to check in with a therapist on a regular basis. We can all benefit from checking in with someone about our mental health, and your therapist is probably doing it too!
3. Myth: Asking for help for your mental health is a weakness.
Just like it is normal and healthy to see your medical doctor when you have a physical illness, it is normal and healthy to see a therapist (or psychiatrist, teacher, friend, etc.) for help when you are struggling with mental or emotional health. It can take some extra courage to open up to the vulnerability of talking about emotions in our world. But, the way I see it, anything that takes courage shows strength. Just like I discussed in Myth #2, struggling with mental health is a completely normal thing. It is perfectly normal, and even healthy, to get help when we need it.
I invite you to take a moment to notice if you struggle challenging any of these stigmas around mental illness and mental health. Maybe you even want to explore some ways to start challenging these myths in your life. The more we can challenge these myths around mental illness, the more we can take charge of our mental health!
Some ways to challenge the stigma around mental illness
- Let a friend or family member know if you are struggling with your mental health
- See a therapist (and maybe a psychiatrist/med provider too if that would be helpful!)
- Prioritize time to focus on your self-care
- Talk to others about how you are taking charge of your mental health
- Check in on others in your life, whether or not you know that they struggle with their mental health
- Support others in seeking help for their mental health
- Normalize conversations around mental illness and mental health
- Compassionately challenge others statements that stigmatize mental illness