Changing the Popular Conversation Around Mental Illness
Advocacy We all can make a difference during Mental Health Awareness Month—and throughout the year—if we can reject the stigma and offer care.
Mental Health Awareness Month—it’s a time for all of us to reflect on how we can help and support people affected by mental health conditions.
There is an old saying: “Mental illness is not a casserole illness,” meaning that we bring sympathy and a meal only when someone has cancer or a heart attack. We don’t do the same if a person or family is struggling with bipolar disorder or depression.
It does not have to be that way. In our houses of worship, workplaces, schools and communities, we can reach out and let people know that we care and support people with mental health conditions just as we care and support those with other health conditions.
“'Stigma is born of ignorance and fear. The more that we can teach people, the less frightened they will be.'”
We can share a kind word, help someone locate mental health care and listen without judging. When we have discussions, we can make sure mental health is included. For example, my church profiled conversations between prominent members of the congregation and the pastor. One of the stories included someone who struggled with depression and he discussed the role of faith in his recovery.
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This month, we can speak out and ask for presentations or events highlighting mental health just as we do for breast cancer awareness month in October or heart awareness month in February. Many organizations have free presentations or information that can be incorporated into workplace lunch and learn events or school health classes.
Actress Patty Duke, who died recently, is remembered as the first celebrity to disclose a mental health diagnosis. In an interview in 1989, she declared: “Stigma is born of ignorance and fear. The more that we can teach people, the less frightened they will be. Most important is that those who need help—who are feeling the way I felt when I was lying in bed for three months at a time—will know that I’m not inventing this; that it is real, and that hope exists for them.”
A culture of caring will ultimately defeat stigma and bring hope. We all need to take steps to create a stigma-free workplace, campus, or faith community. We all can make a difference—bringing casseroles, comfort and caring—during Mental Health Awareness Month and throughout the year.