Just the word conjures up images of begotten, forlorn looking people with this head in their hands surrounded by the text of a niche news article on a website. But what is actually happening in the real world?
In recent years its easy to see that Mental Health is getting a lot more exposure in modern media. Some of is positive, some of it negative. Its this stigma that for a lot of mental health clients makes them less willing to engage with service and get the help that they need.
The Canadian Federal Health Minister, Leona Aglukkaq, came out 2 days ago and stated at present Stigma is a bigger priority to healthcare then increased funding. “The first step is to get past the stigma and get people talking about mental health to determine better what kinds of services we can provide,” she said in an interview from Geneva, where she led a round table on mental health during a global discussion on improving health care.
Can you imagine if the same level of stigma and judgement was given to heart attack? when someone had a heart attack most if not all of their friends would desert them. The general public would think they were dangerous. The media would report that the “heart attack guy killed 3 people when he crashed into them,” even though it had been 10 years since he had his last heart attack. They would find it difficult to find a job or keep a relationship. People would avoid them in the street in case they had a “heart attack turn.”
ridiculous right? absurd? sounds like it is some kind of joke? Well you are right on all accounts. It is ridiculous. It is absurd. It is a joke. It is also the reality for millions of people with Mental Health conditions all around the world!
So what can be done?
Stigma is an attitude, and unfortunately it is a social norm. The same situation has happened many times before with different demographics e.g. women being allowed to vote. With the ever increasing exposure we have to Metal Health in the media its time that we made a stand!
Gandhi understood this when he said, “you must be the change you want to see in the world,” and that is what we must do. It is our responsibility to talk to people we know about mental illness in a positive light. We need to learn that its not “a schizophrenic person,” but rather “a person with schizophrenia.” Because above all else they are a person before anything else.
The media also needs to take some responsibility and stop reporting crimes committed by people with mental illness in the context that the illness is the reasoning for the crime. Statistically crime rates are slightly higher in the general population then with people who have a mental illness. This is one myth that is not well known, as it doesn’t make for good headlines.
I implore you to go out and talk to one person about their preconceived ideas around mental illness and talk to them about the facts, then encourage them to do the same. If we all can change just one persons perception of mental illness then the world will be a better, more accepting place.