Crazy. Psycho. Deranged. These are some of the terms used to identify people living with mental illness. Attach one of these labels to someone and you are perpetuating a stigma that has surrounded mental health for centuries.
Even today, stigma surrounds mental illness, and that is why so few people get the mental health treatment they need, said Bernice Drumheller, president of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Western Massachusetts (NAMI).
“The stigma that is attached to ‘madness’ in our culture is particularly severe and carries social judgment,” Drumheller added. “For family members and individuals, suffering stigma occurs every time we are shut out, kept out, disregarded, disrespected, and secondguessed because we are considered to be inferior due to our particular ‘mental’ misfortune.”
Mental illness affects everyone regardless of race, age, religion, or economic status; mental illness impacts the lives of at least one in four families and one in 10 children.
Drumheller encourages people living with mental illness to never give up hope. “Mental illness is not a character flaw. It is an illness just like diabetes or heart disease and can be treated effectively. Recovery is possible and can lead to a productive life.”
Organizations like NAMI are fighting against universal prejudice and seek to reduce and remove the barriers to treatment and care for those living with mental illness.
There are simple steps you can take to curtail the stigma:
• Learn about mental illness.
• Treat all people with dignity and respect. People living with mental illnesses may be your friends, family
• Avoid labeling people. Rather than, ‘She is a schizophrenic,” say “She has a mental illness.”
• Insist media be responsible and accountable in their reporting.