The pandemic has been hard on the mental health of our country. There was a 30% increase in adults reporting anxiety or depression in January 2021 (compared to 2019), and the economic hardship and isolation that many experienced contributed to a rise in suicides in the black community.
Those of us in the helping professions have been on a crusade to eradicate (or at least reduce) the stigma of mental health disorders for decades. Stigmatizing mental health problems makes those who need help less likely to seek it.
As a society, we’ve come a long way toward reducing the stigma associated with mental health issues like depression and anxiety, but sometimes it’s the ‘little things’ that make people feel shame for their mental health struggles. Watch out for these ‘micro-stigmatizations.’
Ways That You May Be Stigmatizing Mental Health
- Using Mental Health Conditions as Adjectives. Instead of describing someone as depressed, you can describe them as ‘showing symptoms of depression.’ Whoever you are talking to might also struggle with the symptoms and we don’t want them to identify with the mental health disorder.
- Avoiding Those With Mental Health Symptoms. If you have an acquaintance with whom you want to make plans but they “seem to have a lot going on,” check on them and include them anyway, without pressure. You may feel that they need space, but your friendship and interest probably mean a great deal to them. Even if they decline your invitation, you have shown them that they matter to you.
- Focusing on Others’ Mental Health Symptoms. It may feel like you’re being caring for inquiring about the progress of their mental health recovery, but you could be reinforcing to your friend that you identify them with their mental health symptoms. Instead, ask about a hobby or area of life that you know they enjoy and care about.
- Identifying With Others’ Mental Health Symptoms. If someone has opened up to you about mental health struggles, a common reaction is to identify your own struggles. Be careful with this, as everyone’s experience is different and their mental health symptoms might be much more acute than yours . Also, if you are framing your struggles as “in the past,” your friend may feel ‘less than’ for not having the same recovery that you’ve achieved.
Continue to Be Compassionate and Think Before You Speak
Let’s continue our great progress towards eradicating stigma for mental health disorders by choosing our words carefully. Let’s continue to be there for our friends and loved ones by engaging with them without judgement. I hope that this article has given you an idea about how to show even more support to those in your life who may be dealing with a mental health challenge.
Scott H. Silverman, Crisis Coach and Founder/CEO of Confidential Recovery at Confidential Recovery
Scott H. Silverman has been fighting against addiction for over 20 years. He is the CEO of Confidential Recovery, an outpatient rehab in San Diego. You can buy a copy of his latest book “The Opioid Epidemic” here.