Tuesday January 28, 2014 in Canada is the Bell Canada Initiative to help end the stigma that surrounds mental illness. To read more about this please visit Healthyminds.ca

The stigma surrounding  mental illness is a real obstacle for many in getting the help they need to get better. We all know someone or many of us may have been someone who is now or who has suffered alone in silence for fear of being outcast, misunderstood, and for fear of the very stigma that leaves people feeling very judged because they are coping with or working on recovery from a mental illness.

Mental illness is still not talked about enough. The stigma is growing not getting better or being dispelled. Every time there is a news story that involves someone hurting someone else it seems mental illness is often blamed. Most people, the vast majority of people with any mental illness will not be violent or do harm to society. Many will harm and/or kill themselves. Too many people associate mental illness with negative stereotypes, with extreme characters portrayed in movies, with those who may have not gotten the help they needed and then tragically make the news.

Mental illness is not, for most, what the news reports of the minority of mentally ill people. Mental illness is not a life sentence. Mental illness is not something to fear a person for. Mental illness needs to be talked about and not shunned in silence that promotes continued stigma, false stereotypes, and fear. There is no shame in being mentally ill.

Many people during the course of their lives will face coping with mental illness in their own lives or the lives of loved ones. Recovery is possible. Support needs to be more available. People with mental illness need to talk. They need to be heard. They need to be cared about, accepted, supported and not shunned and rejected.

Mental illness presents different challenges. As someone who recovered from a mental illness in my own life, I know that stigma first hand. A stigma that can follow long after recovery. People do not understand that most mental illnesses can be recovered from or in some cases well-managed.

The difference, in my opinion, between  mental illness and mental health is not that great. What do I mean? They are not opposites. There can be many challenges in life for those not diagnosed as mentally ill and many who are or have been mentally ill who have or will recover and their experience has meaning and purpose in the human context of their life experiences.

Mental illness is an emotional (not chemical) imbalance. It is not contagious. Caring about someone with mental health challenges matters. In order to defeat the stigma surrounding mental illness each person within each society must become more aware about what people are actually experiencing and why – how they can learn to cope effectively and in many cases recover.

People with mental illness or who have had mental illness, as we’ve seen the narratives and experiences of some of our Canadian Olympic or former Olympians who have shared their experiences are proof and role models that fight the stigma of mental illness because they put not only a human face on it but also show us that many with or who have had mental health struggles in spite of them managed to function, to excel, and to soar to the achievement of their goals and dreams.

More people like Clara Hughes and other Canadian Olympians and every day citizens in Canada around the world need to talk about their experiences and need to talk about their experiences and be able to do so meeting with understanding, compassion, and acceptance if we are going to make progress in ridding the stigma that still surrounds mental illness in the minds of too many.

What is different is not “less than”. What is challenging makes us stronger and teaches us valuable coping skills in life. Mental illness past and recovered from or mental illness that people have right now does mean they are not, largely, contributing to society.

Ending stigma against mental illness means people need to be more educated about what mental illness really means and how much hope there is for coming through mental health challenges stronger and wanting to help others understand. Ending the stigma against mental illness includes open on-going dialogue and a willingness to talk and to listen and to not judge.

No one is perfect. We all will have obstacles to overcome in life. Facing what is, is what will help each person striving to overcome any obstacles that mental illness can present them with. Caring, talking, keeping mental health challenges out in the open and more people being aware and educated is what is needed along with acceptance of those with mental health challenges as worthy people in order to end the stigma about mental illness.

Putting more human context to what mental illness is really about and what it is like versus the stigma and misunderstanding about it is central to denting and eliminating the stigma of mental illness.

People with mental illness or who have overcome and recovered from mental illness are firstly, people. They should not be made to be outcast or shamed and continued talking about it is what will help more people to gain enough understanding to help make strides against this ever-present stigma. A stigma that keeps too many people from getting help, support, and from feeling like they are, what they are, worthy and meaningful members of society.

© A.J. Mahari, January 28, 2014 – All rights reserved.

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More Needs To Be Done To End The Stigma of Mental Illness