Fighting the Stigma

We often speak about the importance of spreading awareness about various mental health issues to decrease misinformation and stigmatization.  I am a staunch advocate for that cause; however, I’ve been spending more time lately how these problems arose in the first place.  It makes a lot of sense to me that misinformation could be the result of ignorance on the subject or a simple lack of experience being around people with a particular diagnosis.  I also see how some of that could feed stigmatization but there seems like there’s something more going on there than a mere lack of knowledge.  What is the basis by which people discriminate against and ostracize others?  It can’t solely be fear of the unknown or of that which is different from them because then providing them with the correct information should remedy the majority of the problem.

I wonder if the reason for the counterproductive attitude toward those suffering from psychological problems has more to do with the person casting judgment than the struggling individual.  Perhaps it’s an inability to have empathy/sympathy or a fundamental unwillingness to love those whose who wear their suffering on their sleeve instead of hiding it.  If the latter is the case, then I highly doubt educating them about mental health is going to get very far.  What do we do when our message falls on ears that do not care or wish to be our allies?  This is a sticky predicament because I’m not sure that we can teach them to love when they have already chosen not to.  Fortunately, I do believe there is something valuable to be said about the human heart’s capacity to be inspired to grander heights.  The question then is centered on how might we go about inspiring them?

The wise saying “lead by example” has a lot to offer here.  We can always model the selfless understanding attitude we wish them to adopt.  We can take care to not to define people by always using their conditions to refer to them, especially around them (ex. Referring to a person as “someone who struggles with schizophrenia” instead of “a schizophrenic”).  Our words can highlight the sacred value of human life by paying immense respect to it in every conversation that provides us an opportunity.  Extending patience in public to those we can clearly see are wrestling with mental health issues as well as their family members is perhaps the most beautiful, influential way we can shine a light on this important matter.  Our cause will always be a work in progress but the grace we show one another could add together and create an greater impact that we could’ve accomplished alone.

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