So there’s a load of us out here trying to get, and keep, the conversation going about mental health. There are big (and little) names and organisations all over fighting to end the stigmas attached to mental illness and poor mental health. But what are some of those stigmas? As much as talking about our own individual experiences with mental health is a huge step, we still need to tackle some of these stigmas, and stereotypes, head-on to make real progress.
The first stigma I want to talk about is that of the “psycho” mentally ill person, who is violent, evil and dangerous. It wasn’t until the (scarily) recent past, that people stopped being institutionalized for merely mentioning their mental health, so it’s always been painted that mental illness equates to an inability to live a normal life in society and the tendency to be a danger to others, and the media has had such a dramatic effect in ensuring this stigma sticks.
In movies, we see criminals and violent villains being shown to be mentally ill, being described as “crazy” and “psycho”, in the media we see numerous links reported between mental illness and violent crime. Even if there is any correlation there, if the only time we are ever talking about mental health is to discuss criminals and violence, eventually people are going to start to believe that every person with poor mental health is, by default, criminal and violent.
This is so problematic for a number of reasons. First of all, the obvious. No, not everyone that struggles with their mental health is dangerous, and if they are, it will almost always be the case that they are more likely a danger to themselves than anyone else. I know from my own experiences that I would never in a million years consider harming anybody else, but when it comes to myself, I sometimes feel differently.
The biggest problem here, is that stigmas like this stop people wanting to talk about their problems. If we think that we’re going to get the words “crazy” or “psycho” or even something as horrible as “you need locking up” thrown at us for speaking out, or we think that we are going to make people feel uncomfortable, or even scared to be around us, then why would we ever even consider it? What ends up happening, is that more and more people go undiagnosed, their symptoms worsen, and they end up struggling alone, worse and for longer. The irony of this, is that the less people that want to talk, the less society understands mental health, and the stereotypes keep building.
It’s a vicious circle that we can all try to help and break. If you’re struggling, as hard as it is, try to be honest and open about your struggles. If you’re doing okay, then try to call people out for using these stereotypes, and welcome open conversations about mental health. We all have a part to play in fighting stigma, so let’s work together the best we can.
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