Making it okay to talk about mental illness is a crucial step to reducing the silence that surrounds it. Sharing the knowledge you’ve gained with others is an effective tool to battle this silence.
Starting a conversation about mental illness may be as easy as discussing current events. If some news story is grabbing the headlines, it’s not hard to imagine the emotional or mental support the main players might need. If health care is in the news, it’s an easy tie-in to mental health care.
Often, people will talk openly to friends when they have had their appendix removed or when they discover they have diabetes. If you feel comfortable and safe doing so, you can talk about past or present mental health concerns with the same attitude: matter-of-factly and without shame. Provide the facts and your successes. Make it part of everyday conversation, and the stigma begins to dissolve.
Years ago, cancer was not a topic discussed in an open and frank manner, yet as more information about cancer became available, pamphlets and health warnings became more visible. Even AIDS, a once taboo subject, has lost its stigma.
“If people would realize that with mental illness there is often something wrong with the structure or function of the brain, just like a pancreas or a kidney sometimes doesn’t form or function properly, there would be fewer stigmas attached to it.”
– Professor James Fox
Allow conversations about mental health at home, in the workplace, and in the community. Model a healthy attitude based on facts and the acceptance of others.
Help build an inclusive workplace or community:
- Accept that mental illness is real and treatable, just like diabetes or heart disease;
- Learn the signs of mental illness;
- Understand there are no simple causes, but usually a variety of factors behind a person’s illness;
- Befriend someone who is coping with depression or another mental illness;
- Watch your language – labels do hurt;
- Talk at work about what “mental health leave” really means.