Mental health is a difficult topic to discuss. As a society we are more willing to talk about goals to eat healthier, exercise more, and follow advice from medical professionals. However, the shame and stigma surrounding mental health concerns -- depression, bipolar disorder, or substance abuse -- create the biggest obstacles to people getting help.
Public perception can label certain individual and specific characteristics, often causing negative stigmatization. These labels create a separation between members of society, which often results in inequality.
Criminality is one aspect of the negative stigma attached to those labeled as mentally ill. Whenever a violent crime occurs, the accusation that the perpetrator was mentally ill inevitably arises. However, both criminality and mental illness are complex problems. There is no firmly established link between individuals with mental health concerns and individuals who choose to commit crime. The idea of this link fuels many people’s preconceived notions about mental illness, further discouraging those who may start experiencing symptoms to seek help.
Awareness and education plays a major role in reducing stigma. People living with behavioral health challenges can provide a valuable perspective in conversations about interventions and recovery. Their success stories can build a foundation for positive models of health seeking behaviors. Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) training also has a hand in combating stigma. MHFA educates and equips members of a community to recognize and respond to people experiencing mental health symptoms during a more treatable stage, while awaiting the availability of professional help.
Just like chronic physical conditions, mental illness can be managed with counseling, medication, and/or other supports. Stigma makes mental illness isolating for affected individuals, family and friends. The more our communities engage in awareness and dialogue, the easier it will become to break down the negative attitudes and misconceptions surrounding this important aspect of wellness.