Mental Illness Awareness Week & World Mental Health Day: Fighting the Stigma
Each year, millions of Americans (47.6 million adults in 2018) experience the reality and challenges of living with a mental health condition. Mental illness affects everyone directly or indirectly through family, friends or coworkers. Although mental illness is so prevalent in our country, stigma and misunderstanding are unfortunately equally widespread. That is why each year, during the first week of October, mental health organizations, professionals and individuals across the country raise awareness for mental illness.
Mental health is important to discuss year-round, but promoting the topic during Mental Illness Awareness Week and on World Mental Health Day provides a dedicated time for mental health professionals and advocates across the country to educate, support and spread a message of understanding. This dedicated awareness week started in 1990 when Congress officially established the first full week of October as Mental Illness Awareness Week.
What Is The Stigma Surrounding Mental Health?
The word “stigma” is thrown around a lot when discussing the lack of conversation and awareness regarding mental health and mental illnesses. To define it, stigma is when someone views a person in a negative way just because they have a mental health condition. Some also describe stigma as a feeling of judgment from another person due to a particular quality or circumstance. Stigma can also come from an internal place when an individual feels inferior or shame due to their condition.
Living with a mental health condition can be tough, and the isolation, blame, and secrecy that is often encouraged by stigma can impose challenges to reaching out, getting the necessary support and living a healthy life.
How to Provide Support & Why Language Matters
Everyone can play a role in reducing the stigma around mental health. One of the simplest ways to approach mental health in a more supportive way is to be mindful of the way we speak about it. Some language can reinforce the feeling of isolation and make individuals feel defined by an illness they are experiencing. Experts at the National Council for Behavioral Health recommend using “person-first” language that focuses on the person, not the disorder or illness.