Mental illness is not contagious; you will not “catch it” by getting informed or being kind. You are probably thinking, “how can I be a mental health advocate? Me?
Yes, you can.
Many African communities are recognizing the need to pull our heads out of the sand on mental health issues. Conversations about mental health awareness and care are slowly coming out of the shadows. Fortunately the more these conversations happen, the more the stigma surrounding mental health is eroded.
As a psychologist this really excites me and I take advantage of every opportunity to engage people in open honest conversation on mental health. My experience has been that although most people are aware of how necessary the need for mental health advocacy is, they feel powerless to effect any real change.
“What can I do?”
I get this question a lot and I am sure it is one a lot of us can relate to.
There are a lot of seemingly small things that we can all individually do that will collectively impact perceptions and attitudes about mental health. I want us to reflect on one of those things, which is a central part of life and extremely powerful.
Let’s pause and think about our everyday language choices. How do we help to maintain the stigmatization surrounding mental health, misinform and make light of serious mental health challenges through our daily language choices and how can we be more responsible.
We are all guilty of using at least one or more of these phrases.
“She/he’s being so bipolar”
We often use this to describe someone who is being moody. But, bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that causes extreme mood swings that include emotional highs (mania or hypermania) and lows (depression). Consider saying, “ she/he’s being moody “instead.
“I’m so ADD.”
Often used to describe moments of inattention. But, attention disorders come with issues of sensory overload and limited impulse control. Consider saying, “ I’m having a hard time focusing right now” instead.
Now this is a common one.
“My ex was such a psycho”
Often used to describe erratic or irrational behavior. But, psychosis is a serious mental health condition, which causes a person to lose contact with reality, & may include hallucinations and delusions. Consider saying, “ My ex was so unpredictable and unreasonable” instead.
Chances are we have all used these two:
“That movie, conversation, picture, song…. made me feel so depressed.”
Often used to describe moments of sadness. But, depression is a condition characterized by persistent feelings of sadness or loss of interest & can lead to changes in sleep, appetite, energy level & suicidal thoughts. Consider saying “ That movie made me sad” instead.
“I’m so OCD.”
Often used to describe certain organizational habits.
But obsessive-compulsive disorder is draining & exhausting, characterized by persistent unwanted thoughts & behavior often out of the people’s control. Consider saying “ I’m very organized” instead.
These little changes can have a big impact.
The more hidden mental illness remains, the more people continue to believe that it is something to be ashamed of. Shame thrives in silence and secrecy. Every one of us has the ability to help reduce stigma. Lets pay attention to the many different ways we can change our every day language choices to help.
Additionally we can
• Educate ourselves and others about mental health and illness
• Get to know people with personal experiences of mental illness
• Speak up when friends, family & colleagues exhibit myths, derogatory & negative stereotypes about mental illness.
• Offer the same support to people when they are sick, whether it’s a physical illness or a mental illness
• Treat people living with mental illness with respect & dignity, as you would anyone else
• Talk openly about your own experiences of mental illness (if you can)
Photo Credit: Fotos.com.ng