Friday, January 2, 2015

The Power of Words: Addressing the Stigma of Mental Illness

Jenna Bowen, medical student, University of Wisconsin
Reviewed by Claudia Reardon, MD

Crazy.  Insane.  Deranged. Mad.  Lunatic. —Misused as nouns, adjectives and lay-diagnoses, their use perpetuates stereotypes of the wide variety of people who experience mental illness.
Maybe you know someone or, more likely, a number of people who experience depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or other brain disorders.  According to the National Institute of Mental Health, 1 in 4 American adults and 1 in 5 American youth experience a form of mental illness every year. People with mental illness are teachers, accountants, neighbors, sisters, fathers and friends. Anyone you know could be experiencing mental illness, but afraid to come forward and be treated. Maybe that person is you.
People living with mental illness continue to have an identity that is beyond a diagnosis, similar to other medical conditions. While managing mental illness may be challenging at times—similar to challenges faced by people with diabetes, high blood pressure, or other medical illness— there is greater difficulty in getting the treatment needed because of feelings of shame and stigma surrounding mental illness. However, treatment for mental illness works. Research shows the majority (65 percent to 80 percent) of individuals with mental disorders will improve with appropriate treatment and ongoing monitoring. People with mental illness need to know that they will continue to be seen as people – your brother, best friend, daughter —and not “crazed” or “insane” if they appropriately seek help for a treatable medical condition that they happen to be experiencing.
Bring Change 2 Mind, an organization aimed to end stigma and discrimination surrounding mental illness, offers recommendations to reduce your impact on the stigma surrounding those with mental illness.
  • Use "person first" vocabulary. When we say a person is schizophrenic, we make their mental illness fully define their identity. Instead, be clear that this is a disease that individuals manage and live with— "He is living with schizophrenia."
  • Avoid the verb "suffers" when discussing mental illness. Instead, choose, "lives with mental illness" or "is affected by mental illness."
  • There are many phrases and terms; "crazy," "nuts", "psycho", "schizo", "retard" and "lunatic" that may seem insignificant, but really aren't.

Be an advocate for those that you know, and the many that you don’t know, who are living with some form of mental illness by breaking down stigma, and being conscious of language surrounding brain disordersTo learn more check out:
·         Bring Change 2 Mind
·         NAMI – Stigma Busters

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