Let’s shatter the stigma

Heidi L. EverettEditorial, Print Sartell - St. Stephen, Print St. JosephLeave a Comment

Think about what you did in the last 11 minutes.

In that short amount of time, someone in America died by suicide. 

Data released this year from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show the suicide rate has climbed 35 percent since 1999. If that statistic isn’t alarming enough, experts say social limitations and economic pressures brought on by COVID-19 have heightened the risk. 

Even before the pandemic, the nation’s suicide rate peaked to historic highs, with rates at the highest level since World War II. It’s still too early to predict the scale of impact, but social isolation is likely to drive up suicides across the world.

Often a result of an untreated mental health condition, suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem – one that often shocks small, close-knit communities such as ours. There were 48,344 suicides in America in 2018, but this data doesn’t account for the number of suicide attempts, not to mention the number of residents impacted by depression who have recurrent thoughts of suicide.

Mental illness doesn’t always end in suicide. Still, one in five people are living with a mental illness such as depression, anxiety, bipolar, personality and eating disorders, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Mental illness is real. And it does happen here – to people of all ages and socioeconomic statuses. We must shatter the stigma still attached to it, dispelling the belief it’s something “made up” or something one can simply “snap out of” or something they can control “if they only tried.” Awareness efforts have improved how mental illness is perceived and acknowledged, yet ignorance and judgement continue to hinder those who are suffering and need help. 

Furthermore, the National Alliance on Mental Illness says that, for a group of people who already carry such a heavy burden, stigma is an unacceptable addition to their pain.

Stigma is rooted in shame. Supportive environments are key to removing barriers that prevent many people suffering with mental illness from getting help. 

Oct. 4-10 is Mental Illness Awareness Week. This year’s theme is, “What People with Mental Illness Want You to Know,” and, as journalists, we believe it’s an important one. When people who live with mental illness share their stories, it helps us better understand the impact. That impact touches not just people who live with mental illness, but their families as well. 

By listening to their stories, “we understand the difficulty people face in obtaining care and treatment in a timely way,” said Sue Abderholden, executive director of  the NAMI. “We understand the discrimination people face when their insurance won’t cover the treatment they need, their employer doesn’t understand the accommodations needed, or the school doesn’t understand how to support a young person.”

“When we listen – really listen – we also hear people’s hopes and dreams,” Abderholden said. “We learn the determination and courage it takes to walk this journey. We learn that hope is a verb and recovery is possible. We learn the importance of reaching in and providing support to our loved ones or friends when they are struggling.”

We all can do our part to fight the stigma. Here are a few ways:

Share Stories

Talk openly about mental health. If you’ve struggled with mental illness, consider sharing your story. It reminds people they’re not alone. Shame lives in the darkness. Bringing stories of emotional suffering that others can resonate with into the light weakens that shame. 

Support an Organization

There are several organizations on the local, state and national level that exist to fight the stigma and help those who are struggling. Consider supporting their mission or participating in an event that raises awareness and funds for mental illness.

Set an Example

Avoid insulting comments about people and avoid judging others to be “less than” you. Oftentimes, when we do this, we don’t know their story; rather we make assumptions and fail to take into consideration what they’re going through or that their behavior is impacted by mental illness, not a direct reflection of who they are as a person.

Show Compassion

Mental illness is not anyone’s fault. It’s not something they choose to live with. Be compassionate toward people who are suffering emotionally, just as you would if they were suffering with a physical illness. When they realize you truly care and are willing to listen and offer support without judgment, they will begin to open up and take the first step toward treating their mental illness. 

Author: Heidi L. Everett

Heidi joined The Newsleaders Oct. 30, 2020 after being a fan of the St. Joseph edition for 15 years. When she is not sharing local news and stories, she is a professor of strategic communications at St. Cloud State University.

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