I was shocked!

Many of you know I readily and willingly speak openly about my experience with mental illness. I do this to help increase awareness of mental health conditions and to reduce the awful stigma that surrounds them.

Perhaps because I am so open, I rarely personally encounter the stigma, prejudice and mistaken beliefs surrounding mental illnesses.

The other day, I did – and I was truly shocked.

In a small group of friends, we were discussing how the pandemic has affected so many people’s mental health (and I had shared the impact it had on mine). After being quiet for a while, suddenly one person spoke up.

“Well, I don’t want people to think I’ve got a mental illness. In fact, I don’t want people to think I’ve ever had a mental illness – or will ever have one!”

I honestly thought I must have misheard this person. Sadly, I hadn’t.

Goodness – what must this person think of me, then? Are they frightened of me? Do they think they might ‘catch’ a mental illness from me? Do they see me as deficient in some way?

I’m not often at a loss for words – but I certainly was that day. Being in a group having, what until then, was a friendly and open discussion, I decided to ‘choose my battles’ and not reply in any way. I honestly couldn’t think of how to respond calmly and politely.

So instead, I am writing to you. I am pleading with you to help put an end to this insidious shaming of people living with mental illnesses.

Let’s work together to change the way our society looks at mental health so that we regard it in the same way we do physical health. That we recognise and accept there are degrees of wellness – both physically and mentally – and all illness is real.

If you’re ready to join me on my mission to reduce suffering and save lives, here are three specific commitments you can make today.

  • Educate yourself. Learn to recognise the signs and symptoms of common mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression. Find out about the variety of treatments used to help people with these conditions recover. (It’s not always about taking Valium or Prozac!)

  • Be conscious of your language. Saying someone is ‘nuts’ or ‘loony’ only reinforces the misconceptions people hold. Similarly, we need to use the word ‘suicide’ as a verb (as in he suicided), rather than say someone ‘committed suicide’. People commit crimes, like burglary and murder. Someone choosing to end their life is not a criminal.

  • Talk openly about mental health and mental illness. I can’t help but think that one positive that has come from the pandemic is that slowly but surely, more and more people are openly talking about the importance of good mental health. If you read or hear about someone in the public eye who has opened up about their mental struggles, talk with your workmates and friends about this. Acknowledge their vulnerability is a sign of strength and courage – quite the opposite of being weak and cowardly.

These ideas are just the tip of the iceberg of what we can do to reduce – and even eliminate – the stigma surrounding mental illness.

If you want more ideas, please get in touch with me. I’d love you to join me on my mission.

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