Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

August 17, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

ColumnsMind Matters

Stigma surrounding mental illness needs to be eliminated

To mark the end of September as Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, the national organization Active Minds celebrated National Day Without Stigma Oct. 5. The point of this day is to take steps to eliminate the discrimination based on mental health and mental illness in our society and to encourage people to not be ashamed of seeking help and support. The Active Minds website provides three ways in which people are able to help stop stigma in their daily lives: watching their language, showing positive support and reaching out.

The first relates to microaggressions that are often used with mental health terms. Statements such as “She’s so crazy,” “I’m so OCD” and “The weather is so bipolar” link mental health terms with a negative connotation. People should always be identified as people, not as their mental illness. The second, positive support, would be sending out positive messages to the world to let people know that they are not alone and that they have support. It’s as easy as leaving someone a note saying “Have a nice day.” Finally, reaching out to people who might be struggling and giving them information about where to seek help and the resources available to them can make a huge difference.

Mental illness is not something that should be shameful, and these steps can help change the stigma. However, it isn’t something we should only be cognizant about for the day — it should be a constant effort. Instead of being excited and passionate about this day, it has instead made me frustrated. It is exasperating, sometimes, that we need specified days to remind us to take action to prevent hurting other human beings. To remind us to think before we speak and about the impact our words have on the world around us. My wish is that we did not need the day, but it is hard for change to occur without it.

My point is not that days and months of awareness should not exist. My point is that we should actually use them to raise awareness and make change. How many people who heard about National Day Without Stigma will take those three steps and tell their friends to do the same? Probably very few. People need to be motivated to take action. Maybe we need an awareness day about awareness days.