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Breaking the Stigma: How to Talk About Mental Health With Your Loved Ones

More than half the people with mental health illnesses do not receive the help that they need for their disorders. It is very common for people to sweep what they are feeling under the rug for fear of how they will be perceived or judged by their peers. This type of judgment revolves around the stigma surrounding mental health disorders.

Stigma, prejudice, and discrimination against people with mental illness are still very much a problem even in today’s age. The reason for this is that mental illnesses are marginalized in various ways, and often stem from a lack of understanding of them. However, there are ways to overcome this stigma, and it starts by talking about it with others.

The Stigma Surrounding Mental Health

As previously stated, stigma comes from a lack of understanding or fear of mental illness. Inaccurate or misleading representations, like in the media or very severe cases, contribute to both of these factors. As we progress as a society, the stigma is slowly starting to recede. However, studies show that even now, while the public may accept the genetic nature of a mental health disorder, many people still have a negative view of those with mental illness. 

Different types of stigma surrounding mental illness. There is public stigma, which involves the negative or discriminatory attitudes that others may have. There is structural stigma, a more systemic version involving policies that intentionally or unintentionally limit opportunities for people with mental illness. Then there is self-stigma, which refers to the negative attitudes, internalized shame, and self-doubts that people with mental illness may have about their own condition. 

Importance of Reducing Sigma

Stigma about mental health illnesses can be extremely harmful. It can contribute to self-loathing, worsening symptoms, and reduce the likelihood of getting proper treatment. Stigma’s can also impact family members and friends, who often provide essential help and support for people with mental illness. They may internalize stigma and blame themselves, or they may fear that people will blame them for causing a loved one's illness or reject the family socially.

Research has shown that knowing someone or having contact with someone with mental illness is one of the best ways to reduce stigma. Individuals speaking out and sharing their stories can also have an extremely positive impact on reducing stigma. This makes it less scary and more relatable. 

How to Initiate Conversations About Mental Health 

Of course, having these kinds of conversations is never easy. Below are a few tips on how to initiate talking about mental health with your loved ones. 

Create an Environment That Feels Good for You

Opening up and being vulnerable isn’t easy, so you should do it in a setting that feels as comfortable as possible. Consider the location, privacy, and timing of such an important conversation. These conversations deserve full attention. 

Learn How to Speak on Mental Health

It’s always mindful to consider your audience no matter what you’re talking about, especially with such a big conversation. Gauge how much this person already knows about the subject, and if they don’t know much, take an opportunity to educate them. In addition to being educational, speak from the heart and let them know how you feel and how this impacts you.

Create an Authentic Culture That Stimulates Open-Mindedness

Of course, it is not your burden alone to reverse the stigma that revolves around mental health. However, fostering a culture that makes discussing mental health easy can be beneficial for those around you who also struggle. Having these conversations can help open the door for others who need to have these same conversations as well. You never know, maybe being vulnerable about your struggles can help pave the way for someone else! 

  1. Source: Nikhita Singhal, M.D. (2024) Stigma, Prejudice and Discrimination Against People with Mental Illness

  1. Source: Jor-El Caraballo (2018) A Therapist’s Guide to Talking to Friends and Family About Mental Health

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