Smashing the Stigma
Hello people of the internet,
Following on from my last post (if you missed it, this will make more sense if you read that one first - http://dreamingsandwanderings.blogspot.com.au/2015/01/paying-it-forward.html), one issue that I really want to tackle is mental illness. The stigma surrounding mental illness has always greatly affected sufferers, so much so that many are afraid to speak up. I believe education is key to change this, as a lot of people do not understand mental illnesses, and therefore do not know what to think or how to deal with it. If you know someone who may be suffering from a mental illness, use this post as a guide.
Disclaimer: This is written from my personal experience with anxiety because it's what I know and I don't want to be putting words in other people's mouths. Everyone is different. I want to change the world's view of mental health. I sincerely apologise if I offend anyone as this is not my intention. I am more than happy to hear your opinion on this too, so please leave a comment if you wish.
It's sad that mental illness is still seen as something to be ashamed of. It's seen as a weakness, something to be swept under closed doors.
This needs to stop.
1. Reach out
Reach out to people and ask them how they're going. (And I don't just mean the typical Australian greeting of "Hi, how are you", that warrants no reply - I mean genuinely ask how they are doing.) Be a listening ear and a shoulder to cry on. Let them say what they want to say.
2. Take your education into your own hands
When anxiety first hit me, I didn't even know what was happening to me. I was scared and didn't understand what was going on.
Before I struggled with it myself, I had absolutely no idea why or how someone could be so anxious to have a panic attack - and what even is a panic attack? (Google's definition: A sudden overwhelming feeling of acute and disabling anxiety). This can present in many ways - e.g. breathlessness/hyperventilating, dizziness, shaking, crying, etc. It's a very scary experience and some even liken it to feeling like they're dying.
I was scared to tell others what I was going through because I was worried they would think I was just seeking attention and that I was being oversensitive or overreacting. These feelings just made my anxiety worse and lead to another panic attack. Once you're in that headspace, it is incredibly hard to get out of it and I don't think many people understand that.
It's very isolating if the people around you do not understand what you're going through. Take the time to do some research and take some tips on board on ways you can help support them. There are many educational and support companies and websites out there - e.g. Beyond Blue has fantastic information and forums on mental illnesses and how to cope, as well as resources for others on how to help people struggling with mental illness (http://www.beyondblue.org.au).
3. Inappropriate "help"
This is probably the thing that 'erks' me the most and it's thanks to a lack of education. Phrases such as, "Get over it" and "You're fine" are not helpful. They're destructive. It's scary and frustrating to hear things like this. This is one big thing that makes people afraid to speak up.
Just listen. Just sit and listen to what's going on, and then be there for them. If there's one piece of advice you should offer them, it's to seek professional help. They may not be able to fix everything but they can help people cope more effectively and achieve a better quality of life.
Education and promotion is vital to smash the stigma.
It's time to speak up and create a better world for people with mental illness.