Sunday, September 10, 2017

How to Tackle the Stigma Surrounding Mental Health

Today September 10th marks World Suicide Prevention Day, the 15th day of its kind. This prompts us to ask a very serious question- how can we as individuals help to tackle the stigma that still exists regarding mental health issues today? 

1. Education is the only way forward

It is very hard to empathise with a concept you do not understand and the area of mental health is a prime example of this. As a primary school teacher I am fortunate enough to have touched on mental health issues throughout my Bachelor of Education Degree and will prioritise the mental health of children in my classroom with equal importance to physical health. In my view, lived experience is the best educator a person can ever have and it can be extremely challenging to relate to illnesses such as depression, anxiety, bipolar and more unless you have personally been through them yourself. There are so many myths and misconceptions out there regarding mental health so if you or a loved one are suffering the best thing you can do is to educate yourself from reliable sources as knowledge truly is power. My post on "The Reality of Depression: 10 Facts You Need to Know" contains an insightful mixture of research and lived experience. Other educational sources which provide great value include Mental Health Ireland, A Lust For Life, See Change and Pieta House.

2. Avoid stigmatising language

Words such as "crazy, psycho, nuts and bananas" are so commonplace in everyday conversation and can be extremely insulting to people suffering from mental illness. The above phrases insuitate negative connotations, contribute to a devastating stigma and make light and fun of the plague of mental illness which is simply cruel. If you hear this language being used challenge it and call out the perpetatrators. No one knows when illness can come knocking to your door and making light of such a serious topic through offensive language is a common occurence that needs to be tackled head on. 

3. Support those who seek help

If you or someone close to you decides to open up about a mental health issue confide in a professional or family member that you can trust. We need to create a culture of openness where it is perfectly acceptable to seek help for mental health issues without fear of prejudice and discrimination. Never make light of someone who confides their mental health issues to you by dismissing it as a bad day or all in their mind. It has taken extreme bravery for someone to open up and it is when they are at their most vulnerable that support and action is needed. For many people mental health issues will not be overcome simply by a cup of tea and a run and if medication, CBT or therapy are required than they are required and will be more effective with the support of loved ones. 

 Take a minute, change a life

"As members of communities, it is our responsibility to look out for those who may be struggling, check in with them, and encourage them to tell their story in their own way and at their own pace. Offering a gentle word of support and listening in a non-judgemental way can make all the difference."  - World Suicide Prevention Day 


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