Mental illness remains one of the most misunderstood and stigmatized illnesses in North America. The general public lacks knowledge about how mental illnesses affect people and how we can treat mental illness. This lack of knowledge is not helped by the fact that many people living with mental illness are not open about their diagnoses due to fear of being judged or discriminated against.
Mental illness is a medical condition that affects your mood, thinking, and behavior. Mental health problems can be mild to severe. Often, multiple mental illnesses occur at the same time.
The exact cause of most mental health conditions is unknown, but research suggests that genetic and environmental factors play a role in the development of these illnesses.
One of the biggest misconceptions about mental illness is that it’s a personal weakness or character flaw. Tragically, some people believe they have developed conditions such as depression due to their own actions.
While some people who are predisposed to depression may have their condition triggered or worsened due to choices such as not getting enough sleep or not exercising, no one with major depressive disorder (MDD) chooses to have the condition. They did nothing wrong; they just happened to have been born with brain chemistry that sometimes causes them severe distress.
Mental illnesses are medical conditions with many causes, including genetic predisposition and environmental factors. It’s important to remember that people diagnosed with a mental illness do not choose their situation any more than someone with diabetes chooses to be predisposed toward diabetes. Just as you wouldn’t tell someone they were weak because they had diabetes or high blood pressure—both of which can be controlled through medication—you shouldn’t tell someone they are weak because they have a mental illness.
However, even if you believe that someone with a mental illness is somehow responsible for that illness, you should still treat that person with compassion and respect, as all humans are worthy of care.
It’s important to understand that stigma is a form of discrimination. It can be challenging to recognize because it often goes unspoken, but this kind of prejudice leads to the development of misconceptions and stereotypes that can be difficult to fight.
The stigma around mental health has many negative impacts on people with mental health problems, including:
- Stigma may prevent you from seeking help if you need it. If you’re worried that others will think less of you if they know about your battles, it might hold back the progress in recovery.
- Stigma can make recovery seem impossible or pointless for someone who feels alone with their mental illness or substance use disorder (SUD), which is why breaking down these barriers is crucial for improving your overall quality of life.
If you want to help fight the stigma associated with mental illness, start by learning more about it yourself. The more you know, the better equipped you’ll be to educate others and advocate for those living with mental health issues.
Mental Health First Aid is a free 8-hour course that teaches people how to recognize the signs of mental health problems and what steps they can take to get someone’s help if needed. The goal is to reduce stigma and increase the public’s confidence in their ability to offer support to those living with mental illness.
Help Others Learn the Truth About Mental Illness
Once you have educated yourself about mental illness, you might consider trying to educate those around you. While it isn’t always possible to educate everyone in your life, every little bit you can do helps fight against the stigma born from misinformation about mental illness. Some information you may consider attempting to impart to others includes the following:
- Mental illness is a medical condition that affects the brain.
- Mental illness is not a choice; it is an illness such as diabetes or heart disease.
- Mental illness is not a weakness. It doesn’t mean you aren’t able to cope with challenges in life. It just means that your brain isn’t functioning optimally, which can sometimes make it difficult to manage your day-to-day life.
- Mental illness is not a character flaw. Just as someone who has cancer or diabetes deserves compassion and respect, people with mental illnesses are deserving of our care. Both physical and mental illnesses are usually beyond our control.
- Mental illnesses are not caused by bad parenting. Parents don’t choose to have children with depression or anxiety disorders any more than they choose to have a child who has cancer. It is illogical and cruel to blame parents for having a child who must navigate a mental health issue.
A significant portion of the population is struggling with some form of mental illness. Mental illness does not define a person and is not a sign of weakness or a character flaw. Rather, mental illness is something that one needs help with; it does not make one weak.
Ultimately, there’s no single solution to combat the many stigmas associated with mental illness. However, educating people about what mental illnesses are and the importance of eradicating harmful stereotypes about mental illness is a great place to start.
If you or someone you love is struggling with a mental illness and are in need of help, please reach out to us here at Acera Health. We want to help you win this battle. Please call today so we can help you start your mental health healing journey at (949) 866-3461.
Melody is a highly skilled proactive clinical administrator, with more than 17 years of experience serving the community in the behavioral health field.
Her clinical management career started in 2011 as a compliance manager and program director. In 2018, she became an executive as chief clinical officer (CCO). She is a seasoned licensed marriage & family therapist.