About 1 in 5 Canadians - over 6.5 million - experience a mental disorder or substance use problem in their lifetime. Still, people experience stigma about their condition. They are judged, treated negatively, and sometimes have trouble finding a place to live, a job, good health care, and acceptance.
What is stigma?
Stigma is prejudice: holding negative attitudes and beliefs about people who are seen as different. Discrimination is taking action based on those beliefs. Stigma isolates people and excludes people from everyday activities. It can even prevent them from seeking help.
Most people living with a mental illness or substance use problems say that the stigma is harder to deal with than the symptoms of their illness.
People living with mental health and substance use challenges need and deserve respect, compassion and empathy, just like anyone else with a serious but treatable condition.
What can you do?
Quite a bit, as it turns out, starting with how you act and speak.
Think about the words you use in everyday conversation. Words like loony, crazy and schizo contribute to misunderstanding and exclusion. Instead of saying, “he’s bipolar,” use people-centred language like, “a person living with bipolar disorder.”
Now, think about how you support friends and loved ones who experience a mental health challenge. Friends can make a difference by offering assurance, companionship and emotional strength. Learn more on how do to support a friend.
The theme for this year’s Mental Health Week is Get Loud. Getting loud means speaking up to stop the discrimination and the stigma connected to mental illness. It means using your voice to raise awareness and build support. For someone at work. For someone at home. For yourself.
Speak up when you hear or see discrimination or a law or practice that unfairly excludes people. Get Loud!
Author’s Bio: Today’s blog is written by River Chandler. River is the Manager of Social/Emotional Health and Resiliency at the BC Ministry of Health. River brings a passion for the wellbeing of children, youth and their families to her work. Outside the ministry, River is a theatre artist who utilizes the work of Theatre for Living to facilitate workshops and create audience-interactive plays with schools and communities.