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What is Mental Health Stigma?
Today marks World Mental Health Day 2020. This year, many would describe the world as if it were going through a whirlpool. These months have brought difficult circumstances that seem to cascade endlessly; from bushfires in Australia and the United States, deforestation in the Amazon, to events that lead to worldwide human rights movements, and the global pandemic that has affected us all.
Undoubtedly, it’s been a collectively challenging year. The continuous uncertainty and feeling of powerlessness has meant that the need to maintain our mental health afloat has become one of our main concerns and priorities.
But it could be valid to say that this is rather new. Unfortunately, our society has - in most cases - placed mental health under a veil of stigma; making dealing with mental illness a lot more difficult than it needs to be.
What is Mental Health Stigma?
A simple definition of mental health stigma is being treated or seen negatively by others due to having a mental illness. The most popular mental illnesses include depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, dementia.
But more than wanting to answer what mental health stigma is, the why it exists is more elaborate and quite frankly, absurd. In most cases, stigma arises from misconceptions and misunderstandings that lead to the creation of stereotypes. We see it often in movies and entertainment; mental illnesses is often associated and represented negatively with connotations such as being dangerous, evil, insane or unable to function in society - untrue and harmful associations that lead to discrimination and prejudice.
Effects of Mental Health Stigma
But if these ideas of mental illnesses are false, what’s the harm? Shouldn’t knowing they’re untrue be enough to overlook them?
Well, part of that answer is that many people believe these misinterpretations; making the effects of mental health stigma quite serious. As with any other form of discrimination, mental health stigma can result in producing unjustified feelings of shame, embarrassment, isolation, and can ultimately lead to worsening their mental health from fear to seek help and recovery.
Another effect of mental health stigma is that it pushes us away from wanting to be introspective and evaluate our own wellbeing. A lot of the time, this means we overlook and ignore our emotions to avoid being associated or categorized as someone “less than”.
The effects of mental health stigma can be truly detrimental, and it’s about time we mobilised to make the world a better place for everybody. Nobody deserves to be excluded.
How to Reduce Mental Health Stigma
Since mental health stigma comes from wrong information and stereotypes, one of the most important things we can do to reduce mental health stigma is to educate ourselves.
It’s important to remember that knowledge is freedom, so learning what mental illnesses truly are is key to invalidate the false accusations made towards them. With time, this will help spread an entirely different way to see and talk about mental health. Even better, encourage us to take our own mental health more seriously.
If there’s something this year has taught us, it’s that together we can accomplish anything. There is still a long way to go, but what’s important is that we learn and practice values of solidarity, compassion, and empathy. We have the power to change “what is mental health stigma” to “what was mental health stigma”.
Mental Health in 2020
This year, it’s become clear that mental health is something that should be talked about and prioritized in our lives. 2020 has shown us how important it is to keep our minds healthy not only for our own wellbeing, but also for our work life and our family. The mind is capable of doing incredible things when it’s healthy, so it’s crucial to invest in self-care, take time to process your emotions by talking to friends, family or mental health professionals.
Self care comes in all forms. Give yourself time to:
- Explore your creativity through activities like painting, pottery, poetry, and scrapbooking. Just whatever makes your creative juices flow, but engaging with something new that you’ve always wanted to do or try.
- Train your body with sports or activities that bring joy and allow you to connect to nature like kayaking, hiking, snorkeling, or even hide and seek! Try it out with some friends and family, as we sometimes might need a little extra encouragement.
- Strengthen and calm the mind with mindfulness activities such as journaling, meditation - there are heaps of apps to use nowadays - use aromatherapy and essential oils trigger some good feelings and gratitude exercises.
Start with simple changes and stick to one at a time, commit to these and see how slowly when you start creating daily routines the positive changes will also come along. Be patient, be perseverant, but most importantly believe in yourself and your value.
Remember that you are loved, and are deserving of good health. Our mind is the most powerful force in our body; make sure to look after it so it looks after you. From our part, we hope the rest of 2020 is filled with love, good energy and light.