I think it is still hard to talk about mental illness in today’s culture, but a number of factors over the past several years have started to make it easier. I’ll highlight the key ones for me below. That said, stigma remains a huge challenge to addressing mental illness in our culture that we must continue to chip away using these tools.
- Increased awareness through social media, including mental health awareness campaigns such as the Egg Gang, instagram’s #HereForYou campaign, and Facebook’s anti-suicide campaign;
- Emergence of innovative mental health non-profits adding to the wonderful work of longer-standing mental health non-profits, such as BringChange2Mind;
- Public statements by well-known and likable celebrities who do not sensationalize mental health, such as SNL’s Pete Davidson, and realistic examples of the challenges of living with mental illness, such as Demi Lovato’s candid disclosures;
- Increasing mental health awareness on college campuses with increases in rates of mental illness and suicide. Active student mental health awareness groups such as Active Minds also promote mental health resources;
- Increasing news coverage of mental health issues, including the shocking instances of mental illness among the incarceratated and homeless, combined with poor access to healthcare;
- Increasing affordability and accessibility of mental health services, including mental health apps for therapy and telepsychiatry allowing these services to reach previously difficult to reach populations such as rural communities;
- Increasing awareness of importance of mental health in the workplace, such as Madalyn Parker’s viral tweet about taking a day off for mental health. Many workplaces now offer access to wellness services;
- Increasing medical research and findings on the genetic underpinnings of mental illness. Increased understanding helps demystify the illness;
- Public mental health education programs such as Mental Health First Aid, which has trained over 150,000 people; and
- Increasing peer based behavioral workforce — “peer specialists” in clinical settings.
think these and other developments, with their contributions to increased
mental health awareness, are great and will continue to erode stigma, but there
is much more that could be done, such as:
- More mental health education programs for young adults, including grade school, high school and college students. 75 percent of all mental health conditions are diagnosed by age 24, so it is critical to target adolescents and young adults. We need to start mental health discussions sooner to capture these critical times.
- More attention to the mental health needs of minority, at-risk communities such as the African-American and Hispanic communities; and
- Better faith-based mental health education and discussion in houses of worship. 30 percent of people with mental illness see a faith leader before they see a mental health profession.
are just a few examples.
All of this is helping to reduce the shame and embarrassment of having mental illness, but most importantly we all have to help too. The most effective way to combat stigma is by knowing someone with mental illness. We have to find the courage and strength to come out to our friends and family when we feel comfortable doing so. The Coming Out Proud Program is a good resource to turn to when you’re considering whether or not to come out about your mental illness. Peer examples can show people that recovery is possible and reduce the stigmatizing view that mental illness is a life sentence. I wrote about this for the NAMI blog “The Power To Create Change Comes From Within“. Every person with mental illness can make a contribution to breaking down stigma. We need to, we must show people that recovery is real.
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More on Mental Health on Campus:
What Campus Mental Health Centers Are Doing to Keep Up With Student Need
If You’re a Student Who’s Struggling With Mental Health, These 7 Tips Will Help
The Hidden Stress of RAs in the Student Mental Health Crisis