by Anna Yoni Jeffries
When many people hear the words “mental health,” they think of a “crazed” individual who is unfit to live amongst others socially. Characters with mental illnesses are often sensationalized in the media and in fictional stories, exacerbating the stigma that already exists. The recent popular horror film Midsommar, for example, has been criticized for the overly violent, unrealistic way that a bipolar character is portrayed. Or take the post-apocalyptic Netflix thriller Bird Box starring Sandra Bullock. Writer Jess Joho says, “Bird Box joins a long-standing tradition of mass media perpetuating the myth that people with mental illness are dangerously deranged villains of ultra-violence, rather than the reality that they’re actually more likely to be victims of violence.”
These types of inaccurate, harmful associations can happen anywhere. And they lead to misunderstandings and discrimination against people with mental illness, which leaves many without treatment or proper diagnoses.
According to nami.org, approximately 1 in 5 adults in the United States (~46.6 million) experiences mental illness every year. Approximately 1 in 25 adults in the United States (~11.2 million) experiences a serious mental illness each year that dramatically interferes with or limits one or more major life activities. At this rate, it is necessary to educate yourself and others around you of the effects of mental illnesses.
There are several ways to help break the stigmas associated with mental health. You can talk about your own mental health or mental illness publicly. We can also work to encourage people to give the same importance to mental illnesses that we already give to physical illnesses. Also, simply showing compassion and empathy for those living with mental health issues also helps, as does showing up for those who may need your support during difficult times.
There may even be instances where you identify the symptoms of mental illness in others, or someone confides in you about their struggles with mental health. Educating yourself to know the signs, and being equipped with resources for yourself and others can help to ease the stigma of mental health in our society. We can all provide a helping hand to point others in the right direction for mental health resources.
Lastly, we can be conscious of the language that we use. For example, when people refer to mercurial weather patterns as “bipolar weather,” that spreads misinformation about what bipolar disorder actually is and makes it harder for those living with the illness. Or when someone says they’re “OCD” because they spent two hours cleaning their house, they’re not engaging with an accurate representation of what obsessive compulsive disorder actually is—and if the person isn’t diagnosed with the disorder, then they shouldn’t refer to themselves as having it. By educating ourselves, we can be better aware of instances where people are referring to mental illnesses incorrectly or in harmfully casual ways.