Breaking the Stigma: Living with a Mental Illness

What do you think of when you hear the phrase “mental illness”? The chances are, a variety of different images will be conjured up – some positive, some negative, some strange, some familiar. Many people may first learn of, or encounter, mental health issues in the form of media, such as books, tv, or even the news. These depictions can be severe, negative, or even at times romanticized. Some people’s knowledge or familiarity can come from a personal experience, such as a family member or lived experience with a mental health concern. When do we get chances to learn about mental health in a positive, respect-based, and research informed manner? The truth is for many of us, not often. Unless we seek these glimpses of connection to the subject through our own efforts, we are more likely to continue to get our beliefs around mental illness from a variety of sources that may be unintentionally reinforcing stigmas around these concerns.

Depression and Anxiety

Two of the most common mental illnesses that people deal with is depression and anxiety. While these are not the only mental health concerns that someone may face in their lifetime, they are two prominent conditions that one may be exposed to. Depression and anxiety are also somewhat unique in that these emotions are actually not always negative and can play a valued role in your life in moderation. It’s normal to feel depressed for a short period of time, such as following the death of a loved one, after a breakup, or after failing at something important to you. This is a natural reaction to loss. Depression becomes a concern when it is long-lasting, chronic, severe, or impacts your ability to live your life to the fullest. Similarly, anxiety is also a normal part of life in small doses. Anxiety can be normal before a test, or when trying something new for the first time. Only when anxiety gets out of control does it need intervention.

What about other mental health conditions?

Other mental health conditions – such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, or ADHD – are also part of many people’s lived experiences. Many negative stigmas or stereotypes may exist around these disorders, but the reality is many people live happy, healthy, and balanced lives even with these conditions. Some of these conditions may require or benefit from regular maintenance such as on-going therapy or medication management. It’s important to note, whether someone is diagnosed with a certain condition or not, there are some keyways you can support the people in your life around mental health.

What can you do to help?

  • Understand and respect boundaries, especially if they are new. If someone says “No” to something, consider why it may be important that they say no and when possible, allowing people to set limits and boundaries can be a very positive way to support someone in your life.
  • Avoid using derogatory terms such as “crazy”, “insane”, or “mental”. These are negative labels that shut down conversation and can make the other person feel isolated or misunderstood.
  • Be aware of your own boundaries. Just because someone in your life is struggling with a mental health issue doesn’t mean that your own needs and boundaries are not important. Be sure to take care of yourself, set your own limits, reach out for support when needed, and always be aware that professional help is available.
  • Recognize strengths. Every person has strengths. When someone has a mental health condition, it can be easy to focus on areas where they may need support or skills they may need to improve. However, meeting someone where they are at and recognizing their strengths when supporting them can be a powerful way to reduce stigma and provide care to someone in your life.

For more information, contact us today!

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