Removing the Stigma of Mental Illness

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Removing the Stigma of Mental Illness

By Tom Kopp


We’ve all heard the phrase, “You need to deal with the elephant in the room.” More than likely, we have all had an elephant in our room that we didn’t deal with. I know when I avoid elephants, I have what I think are great reasons. Either I don’t know what to do with the elephant, I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings by calling out the elephant, or I am hoping if I ignore it long enough the elephant will just get up and walk out of the room. 

Elephants represent things we don’t want to address or don’t know how to address. 

Issues like alcoholism, abuse, marital unfaithfulness, mismanagement of the monthly income, out of control behaviors, or a mental illness. 

The reality we all have to face is that one in five U.S. adults experience mental illness each year.

What is a mental illness? It is a diagnosable illness that affects a person’s thinking, emotional state, and behavior. Someone with mental illness is often disrupted in their ability to work, attend school, or engage in satisfying relationships.

We want to address some common mental health issues and provide some resources that could help you or someone you love. Let’s be clear. The cure for a mental health issue is not to “try harder”, or “just ignore it.” 

Mental illness is not a character flaw or defect. 

Mental health issues are real, complex, confusing, and most importantly, they are treatable.

There are many reasons people struggle with mental illness. Some are genetic or biological. Some are the result of extreme childhood trauma or overwhelming stress at work, school, or home. The cause is not as important as making the choice to seek professional help. Oftentimes, the greatest barrier to seeking professional help is the stigma that is associated with having a mental illness. 

People are fearful of being misunderstood or shamed if it is determined that they do have a diagnosable mental illness.

These factors can lead to a sense of hopelessness for the individual or family members of someone who is undiagnosed.

So what can we do if we suspect that we or someone we love has a mental illness?

Educate Yourself

It is important to educate yourself regarding mental illness and substance abuse. Educate yourself on possible signs to recognize, resources available for those that need them, and where you or someone you care about can receive professional help. You can also use this comprehensive list of resources available in the Phoenix valley. Download that resource and call/email who you need to find more answers.

Choose Your Words Carefully

When you talk about mental illness, you have to choose your words carefully. Do not use language that is demeaning or shaming. The words you use can either encourage people to get the professional help they need or they can cause people to continue denying that there is an issue at all.

Share the Burden

Share the struggles you are facing. All of us need a support system. The greatest lie we could believe is that we are alone in our struggle or that no one else would understand. Finding a support system will help you not feel alone in your struggles and can encourage you to make choices that lead to better mental health.

Seek Professional Help

Choosing not to seek help is equivalent to choosing to continue to struggle, without any hope that things will change. Professional help will help you to manage your mental illness or possibly even heal from the original source of your mental illness. Here you will find a whole bunch of resources designed to help you or someone you love find healing in the struggle. The important thing is that you take that next step and know that you are not alone. Again, one in five Americans struggle with mental illness each year. You are not alone and there is healing available. You just have to take that next step.