Talking About Mental Illness

Talking About Mental Illness
Photo Credit: Wavebreakmedia / iStockPhoto.com
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Talk, Share, and End the Stigma

Mental illness is a reality for millions of people and indirectly impacts millions more, but how often do you find yourself speaking on the subject?

The topic of mental health triggers strong reactions and a mix of feelings like:

  • Confusion
  • Shame
  • Guilt
  • Anger
  • Sadness
  • Self-doubt

Since these feelings are uncomfortable and undesirable, people tend not to talk about the subject.

People who have mental illnesses sometimes avoid the topic because they feel there will be harsh judgment and stereotyping from others. People who don’t deal with mental illness are often fearful to broach a topic they are unfamiliar with due to the risk of making an accidental offense.

People do not want to be hurt or hurt others, so the topic is not discussed as often as it should be.

Talking Matters

For an issue like mental health, a lack of communication completely hinders the chance of progress. In fact, not talking about something can actually increase the problems because the old stereotypes are left to grow without any new information to take their place. Sharing information, experiences, and resources — like the spoon theory — can help to educate people and encourage them to have a better understanding and awareness about what it’s like to live with a mental illness.

When no one is talking about it, no one is taking action. The field of mental health is too important to too many. It cannot be left to decay.

The solution: talk about mental health. Talk about mental illness. Ask questions and listen to the answers. Effective communication on the topic of mental health can:

  • Reduce negative stereotypes and clichés through accurate education
  • End the stigma attached to mental illness
  • Empower people with mental illness
  • Encourage people to seek treatment earlier, which leads to better outcomes

When the issue of mental health communication is presented, we must discuss advocacy. Advocacy is the process of accepting and standing up for a particular position or policy.

On the topic of mental health, someone could advocate for a better understanding of mental health or increased opportunities for people that deal with mental illness. An advocate is the person who moves the process forward.

When you begin to discuss the importance of mental health, you can assume the role of advocate. Otherwise, your communication may lack purpose or effect.

Know Your Hesitations

Before you can decide where you are going, you need to know where you are. When thinking about the process, it is valuable to know why you do not speak about mental health currently:

  • What keeps you from discussing mental health issues?
  • What prevents you from listening to others?
  • What feelings stir from the topic?
  • Have you had negative experiences in the past?
  • What might happen in the future?

Many of your responses will be based on rational, logical information, but others will be completely irrational and absurd — these will be the responses to target. By identifying them and challenging their validity, you can gain a better understanding of your views.

Set Your Goal

If you are committed to open the lines of communication on the topic of mental health, you now must decide what level of communication you are interested in accomplishing. The decision should be based on your abilities and desires. Just because something seems foreign or challenging to you does not make it impossible.

Do you wish to speak before congress regarding the topic, or are you content speaking to your circle of friends? Do you wish to spark sweeping public reform or to change the views of a few?

Once you make a decision, you can move forward on your path to advocacy. A level of flexibility will be essential here.

You may find your goal difficult to complete at first. If this is the case, feel free to reassess your goals balanced with your abilities to arrive at a more reasonable target.

The Basis of an Advocate

Being an advocate is not a simple progress; it is not something you can wake up one morning and master. Instead, it takes work, diligence and perseverance. An advocate:

  • Researches and gains information related to their topic
  • Finds the appropriate time and style of communication for the situation
  • Presents factual information to persuade others
  • Lives a well-rounded life that does not have to be centered around advocacy
  • Leads by example
  • Has a direction and goal to their advocacy

An advocate does NOT:

  • Base all information on their point of view
  • Base all information on anecdotal information from others
  • Make every conversation about their topic
  • Bully or pressure people to change their views
  • Say one thing and do another

Advocate for the Future

Some might avoid advocacy because they think they are not strong enough to complete such a task, and their energies would be better served to address and treat their own needs. Others might refuse advocacy because they believe it to be a selfish venture.

Still others think that advocacy is a waste of time because the views of others can never change. Any view deserves a second look, though.

It’s true that advocacy is an act that can have a hugely positive impact on your present, but it is something that can impact the future for others more drastically.

The current views and beliefs about mental illness are a product of hundreds of years of momentum coming to fruition with modern misinformation and prejudices. Because these notions are so ingrained in the way society thinks and speaks, it cannot be changed in a year, a decade, or even a generation, but it can change.

So, if you are reluctant to move towards advocacy, remove yourself from the decision. Instead of focusing on you, focus on all of the people that will come after you.

Think about the men, women and children with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and other mental health conditions whose lives can be improved in the future based on what you do today. Stemming the current flow of mental health beliefs can be difficult, but each rock, pebble, and tiny grain of sand all does its part to accomplish the goal.

In the world of mental health and mental illness, you are either part of the solution, or you are part of the problem. You can be the silent majority that makes decisions based on fear and allows others to speak for you, or you can be the outspoken minority.

You can be someone that makes things better for you and the next generation. On which side will you stand?