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If you are living with or have had a mental illness, at some point in your life you have been told that it is your fault that you are sick. You have been called names. Hurtful, painful names that you have carried along with the guilt, shame, and anxiety you already feel because of your illness. When society doesn’t understand something, they automatically cast judgment and often associate negative labels to describe something they can’t relate to. Sadly, this creates a stigma that ultimately adds to the daily struggles of living with a mental illness. It makes it difficult for those that are suffering quietly inside to actually speak up. Ultimately, the stigma is slowly suffocating people that desperately need help. People that are affected by mental illness need to know that they CAN get better, that recovery IS possible and that they are not alone. In order for us to break this barrier, we have to BREAK THE STIGMA.
It is the responsibility of our society to start this conversation. Our communities need to raise their voices against the stigma and change the way this sad story ends. When people begin openly sharing their stories, their struggles, and their recoveries when talking about mental illness, the power of that stigma will begin to weaken, empowering more people to embrace the idea of recovery.
If you have ever had a mental health disorder talk about it. Oftentimes just sharing your own story can empower someone that may feel hopeless and lost. Be bold. Be proud of your recovery and help others find their own path to overcoming their mental illness.
If you have ever loved someone with a mental illness, tell people what that was like. Share with others the things you found that helped your loved ones and even share the things that did not. While everyone is different, knowing that you tried and that you understand what that is like could give someone the courage to speak to their own loved one that is struggling.
Using mental health conditions as adjectives only adds to the negative labels that go along with the illness. We often don’t realize the pain we cause when we refer to someone as “crazy” or “psycho” when they do, in fact, suffer from a mental disorder. It would be equivalent to making fun of someone that was dying from cancer or heart disease. They have an illness that requires treatment, too. Please don’t treat mental illness any different than a physical illness.
If you suspect someone is suffering from a mental illness, reach out to them, even if it is a simple “Good morning. How are you feeling today?” Many of our society’s homeless population are also struggling with mental illness. Take the time to look them in the eye and start a conversation. Make them feel human. Ask them their story and let them share it with you.
Think of overcoming a mental illness just as you would when someone beats cancer or survives a bad accident. Talk about the strength it takes to get better and how much that empowers you when you reach the day that you can say that you are comfortable being you and proud of the life you live. Having a mental disorder is not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of illness. Overcoming that takes a strong and determined person, but we are all capable of finding the light within ourselves.
People share their favorite pediatricians, their dentists, their eye doctors and their family doctors with friends every day. Talk about how wonderful your therapist was or your favorite support group and why you would recommend them. Not only do they deserve to be recognized for their expertise, but it could be the one recommendation that someone was afraid to ask for.
The time has come for us all to be courageous for those that might not feel so brave today. Our collective voices of hope, recovery, and strength can help us Break the Stigma of mental illness. Together, we can change the conversation. By reaching out, we can help someone take the first step in recovery and begin on the path towards and healthy and happy life.