By Shefa Ali
A few years ago I made a commitment to myself to be an advocate for mental health, For me, that means I make efforts to talk about it on my Instagram posts, on Swalif (my instagram live show) and in conversations whenever I get the chance. Next week I am hosting a ladies event in which I will be addressing the topic.
Before we can make efforts to address mental health, I think we need to stop stigmatising it. Attitudes towards mental health are still not on equal terms with those towards physical health and that stigma can result in barriers for the early diagnosis and treatment of different mental health conditions.
Stigmatisation can take so many different forms, without thinking we use stigmatising language. Using mental illness as the defining characteristic of a person; “paranoid or physco”, using derogatory language like “crazy” and “insane”. Describing people with mental illness as “not normal” implies that there is a fundamental difference between individuals without mental illness (“normal”) and individuals with mental illness (“not normal”).
How we talk about mental illness matters, because incorrect messaging can easily reinforce stereotypes in society, by becoming more aware of how we speak about mental illness and encouraging others to do the same we can start to de-stigmatise. For example the phrase “a mentally ill person” could be replaced with the phrase “a person with mental illness” to reflect that mental illness is not the defining characteristic of that person. We can also ask questions to encourage anyone who does use stigmatising language to reflect on the language that they use. For example, “What did you mean when you said ‘psychotic’?” or “Can you explain what you meant by saying ‘She’s so bipolar’?”
You can even suggest more appropriate ways of talking about mental illness. For example, if someone uses the term “mental” to describe a person with mental illness, you could explain why that word is not appropreiate and instead suggest they say, “a person with mental illness.”
Stopping stigma is not only by acknowledging the existence of mental health, but also refraining from self-diagnosing normal behaviours; it seems like it has become trendy to self-diagnose oneself as OCD when you liked your room organised or paranoid if you’re suspicious. Mental illness terms have become adjectives to describe normal behaviors and emotions, when in reality they are labels of complex behaviours that have been brought about due to a series of unpleasant events, unhealthy coping methods/thought processes, or chemical imbalances that can require anti-psychotic medicines and treatment by professionals.
The way those suffering from mental illness feel goes far beyond the shallowness of social media trends, we can be sad without labeling ourselves #depressed and we can be organised without having #OCD.
The author is a consultant and coach. Instagram handle: @miss_shefa, Website: missshefa.com
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