Sunday, January 27, 2019

Break the cycle and speak up against stigma

Taneil Zanidean
Taneil Zanidean, Addictions Counsellor and Health Promotions Facilitator with Alberta Health Services, South Zone - Along with a new year comes new goals, aspirations, positive changes, and ambitions. Some people have new year’s resolutions to join a gym, to eat healthier, to save money, to spend more time with family, to travel, or to seek help with a desired change.

Some people may ask for help because they want to make changes or take steps towards a new health goal, but asking for help isn’t easy for everyone. Some may worry about what others might think or believe they may be perceived as having a personal weakness. Ultimately, people may fear asking for help and making changes due to stigma – a negative stereotype.

Stigma is an unfortunate reality for many people with a mental illness. Mental illnesses can be characterized by alterations in thinking, mood, or behaviour associated with significant distress and impaired functioning. For many people, how others judge them is one of the greatest barriers to living a satisfying life. However, this does not have to be the case.

Public opinions about mental illness are largely shaped by the media and entertainment industry. People with mental illness are often portrayed as dangerous, violent, and unpredictable. These portrayals, negative images, and stereotypes about mental illness have been strongly linked to the development of fears and misunderstandings, according to several studies. Along with these misperceptions and fears comes significant consequences. Due to the stigma associated to mental illness, many people have found they lose their self-esteem, have difficulty making friends, and may be unwilling to seek help for fear of what others may think.

Rather than creating stigma, a negative stereotype, we should celebrate a person’s courage to speak up and make changes. Seeking help is part of becoming healthier and creating a positive wellbeing. Start with yourself! Be thoughtful about your choice of words and use accurate and sensitive words when talking about people with mental illness. Start to recognize attitudes and actions that support the stigma of mental illness and begin to speak up to raise awareness of how words affect people.

The following acronym may help to identify and address stigma: 

Stereotypes people with mental health conditions (this assumes they are alike rather than individuals)

Trivializes or belittles people with mental health conditions and/or the condition itself 

Offends people with mental health conditions by insulting them 

Patronizes people with mental health conditions by treating them as if they were not as good as other people

Break the cycle by speaking up against stigma. An annual initiative, sponsored by Bell, a telephone company, helps to promote public awareness of mental health issues and seeks to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness. Consider participating in Bell Let’s Talk Day!

Bell Let’s Talk Day is celebrated annually to promote public awareness of mental health issues and seeks to reduce the stigma surrounding mental illness. This initiative, sponsored by Bell, started in 2010 and has raised more than $73 million for mental health initiatives throughout Canada. Bell donates $0.05 every time the hashtag #BellLetsTalk is used in a social media post, text, video, tweet, or call. Bell also gives $0.05 every time someone uses a Bell Let’s Talk Snapchat filter or Facebook frame. This year, Bell Let’s Talk Day is January 30. Be a supporter of this movement and use the hashtag #BellLetsTalk to open up conversations about anxiety, schizophrenia, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and other mental illnesses.

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental illness and you would like to access support, please contact your local Addiction & Mental Health office. In Medicine Hat, please phone (403) 529-3500 to talk with someone regarding your mental health. There are also 24-hour, seven days a week toll free helplines available to all Albertans that offer confidential services, provide support, information, and referral to services. Mental Health Helpline 1-877-303-2642; Addictions Helpline 1-866-332-2322

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