This month is an opportunity for us to become more aware of mental health problems, both our own and others. Given the current economic stressors in our country, more of us are experiencing anxiety and depression and could benefit from help. Yet a large majority of people who are suffering do not seek help due to the stigma that still exists around mental illness.
We might distance ourselves from our neighbor who is acting in an unusual manner, resulting in greater social isolation for that person. An employer might not hire someone with a mental illness due to misconceptions about his or her ability to perform on the job. The media often links violence to mental illness, yet in reality it is much more likely that a person with mental illness will be a victim of violence.
Mental Health Month is an appropriate time for us to begin to consider how we might be contributing to the stigma of mental illness. For example, how often do we call someone “crazy” or say “you’re insane” or “psycho”? The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) does not denounce the use of these words unless they refer to someone who has a mental illness or to the mental illness itself. However, we can stop and think twice about using these words on any occasion.
We can also acknowledge and protest stereotyping of mental illness. Recently, NAMI and Mental Health America advocated to Burger King to remove an ad in which the mascot king was depicted as “insane” because he wanted to sell a sandwich for such a low price. Local incidents can be reported to NAMI on their Fight Stigma site at www.nami.org.
We can participate in the NAMI Washington State Walk on Saturday, May 15, at Magnuson Park in Seattle by supporting a walker or by walking ourselves. This is an annual NAMI fundraising event to support our local programs, which work “to improve the quality of life of those persons affected by acute and chronic mental illness through support, education and advocacy.”
And finally, we can remember that people with a mental illness are not their diagnosis.
Mercer Island Youth and Family Services