Did you know that approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experiences mental illness in a given year? Of these 50 million people, over half do not seek treatment. The top reason these individuals refuse help, according to a World Health Organization survey, is because of “fear and shame.”
This May serves as Mental Health Awareness Month— one of its most important goals is to break down the stigma surrounding mental illness. It has become ingrained in our culture that people who go to therapy are either “weak” or “crazy.” Some still hold the misconception that psychiatrists are trained to brainwash their patients. These stereotypes are only exacerbated by the unfair portrayal of the mentally ill in movies and other forms of media. For instance, the film Me, Myself and Irene uses dissociative identity disorder for comedic ends, painting the disease as trite and silly. The popular television show Monk likewise makes light of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Additionally, there are countless horror movies and slashers that depict the mentally ill as inherently violent and unpredictable.
These 50 million people are our friends, neighbors, and family members— therefore, we need to think twice about the language we use and how it can affect them. One of the most common pitfalls people make is to downplay mental illness. How many times have you heard someone say, “I’m so OCD” in conversation, when referring to their organization style? True obsessions and compulsions can be incredibly debilitating, causing a person to have persistent, unwanted thoughts, behaviors, and rituals. It’s disrespectful to casually use the term as a synonym for tidiness, when people with OCD are truly suffering. In the same way, many people misrepresent mental illness with phrases like, “The weather is so bipolar today” or “My ex is such a psycho” or “I’m addicted to this TV show.” These expressions have become so deeply entrenched in our society’s vernacular, we say them without considering their true implications. Next time you’re tempted to use one of these sayings, think twice about how it can affect those around you who may be suffering from mental illness.
Recently, celebrities have started to speak out, helping to start a constructive conversation about mental illness. The names include: Brandon Marshall, Lady Gaga, Kid Cudi, Lena Dunham, Bruce Springsteen, and Kesha. This is a great first step— but finally breaking down our country’s mental health stigmas will take a concerted effort from all of us.
What can you do to support mental health awareness this month?
- Learn how to recognize the signs of mental illness
- Use social media to share informative content from organizations like Mental Health America and The National Alliance on Mental Illness
- Share stories about how your life has been impacted by mental illness
- Volunteer at local events that support mental health awareness
- Recognize behaviors that can cause or exacerbate mental illness:
- Prescription drug misuse
- Excessive spending
- Internet addiction
- Frequent marijuana use
- Over-exercising / exercise bulimia
Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experiences mental illness in a given year: https://www.nami.org/Learn-More/Mental-Health-By-the-Numbers#sthash.1Y86Egd9.dpuf
Of these 50 million people, over half do not seek treatment: https://mentalillnesspolicy.org/consequences/percentage-mentally-ill-untreated.html
The top reason these individuals refuse help, according to a World Health Organization survey, is because of “fear and shame”: http://davidsusman.com/2015/06/11/8-reasons-why-people-dont-get-mental-health-treatment/
Behaviors that can cause or exacerbate mental illness: http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/may