As an Asian American, Christian mental health professional working and living in the South, I hear my fair share of stigma towards mental health.
Stigma towards Mental Health These are common things I hear people say regarding stigma towards mental health. 1. "I am crazy."
If I address my mental health, then that means there is something wrong with me. I am not normal. I am strange. I'm abnormal. I'm dysfunctional. I'm losing my mind. I am going insane. I am broken. I am less than.
2. "I failed."
If I have problems with my mental health then my parents failed their job in raising me and I don't want to disrespect them. I am a failure. My faith failed me. I failed God as a Christian. God failed me. My belief system failed me. I need to pray more. I need to read the bible. I just need to go back to church. I can't be successful. My life is over.
3. "I'm violent."
If I have mental health problems then that means I might end up killing myself or acting out in violence. I see red. My mind goes to very dark places. I don't want to go there. I don't want to be triggered. I don't want to snap and hurt someone.
4. "I'm weak."
If I have issues with my mental health then that means I'm lazy. I am not working hard enough. I need to try harder. I can't deal with my mental health because I need to just toughen up. I'm stuck. I can't change. I need to suck it up. I need to be a tough man. I need be a strong woman.
5. "My family will disown me."
If I talk about my mental health it'll be shameful to my family. These are our family secrets not to be discussed with outsiders. I will go to the grave with these secrets. I can't handle exposing the skeletons in my closet. We're Asian, we don't deal with mental health. I'm too embarrassed. I'm too ashamed. I can't live out my authentic individual self, I need to live for my family. My parents can't know about this.
None of these stigmas towards mental health are true.
Consequences of stigma towards mental health.
If you have these thoughts regarding mental health, they may cause the following consequences:
1. You don't ask for help.
As you experience problems and difficulties in life, you will be reluctant to trust people, open up, and ask for help from others. If people offer, you may repress and deny that you are struggling. You become to prideful and stubborn to admit that you need help.
You feel loneliness and alone. People won't know what's going on. You feel like people don't understood, know, or hear you. You feel ostracized by your friends, family, co-workers.
3. Decreased motivation and energy.
As you struggle through life alone, you will use up your energy spinning your wheels and become de-motivated. It'll be become harder to take initiative and engage with healthy activities and you will miss out on life-giving opportunities for work, growth, and friendships.
People will judge you from afar, not knowing what you are really struggling with, based on your isolation, negative mood, pessimistic attitude, low motivation, and inactivity in your life.
5. Low self-esteem.
You will see yourself in a negative light. You believe that you'll never succeed, that things will never change, or that you can't improve your situation.
You avoid aspects of your life including taking care of your responsibilities, health, growth, and moving forward in life. You engage with escapism and living in a fantasy instead of reality. You repress, deny, and naively try to avoid your problems and what is happening in your life. You feel stuck.
Adhering to and perpetuating stigma towards mental health has devastating consequences.
How to de-stigmatize Mental Health
Organizations can provide resources, classes, seminars and workshops to teach people about mental health to help dispel these myths. Some specific topics may be: How to schedule an appointment with a mental health counselor. How to manage your stress. How to break bad habits and start healthy habits. What is emotional intelligence? How can I have a healthy ego strength? How to build my self-esteem. How to have a healthy thought life. How to meditate. What is self-care? What are coping skills? Parenting skills. Relationship skills training. How to find meaning and purpose in life. How to be happy.
Individually, you can read about mental health topics to dispel the stigma you have towards mental health.
2. Relate mental health to physical health.
Notice how we respond to physical health symptoms. If someone has a fever, cough, bruise, stomach ache, pain anywhere in their body, especially if it doesn't go away after a long time, we show concern and encourage them to make an appointment with a doctor.
Similarly, if someone is unhappy, withdrawing, despondent, moody, irritable, has angry outbursts, engaging with alcohol and drugs a lot, for long periods of time, we can show concern and encourage them to get help with what they are going through.
We can talk about our feelings. Instead of just saying, "I'm good. I'm fine." Share about how you are really feeling. Share about your goals, hopes, and dreams. Share about your insecurities, worries, and fears. You and the listener can benefit from sharing and having a conversation about mental health topics.
4. Withhold judgment, show grace and acceptance.
Think before you speak. If what you are saying is negative, bite your tongue. It is easy to critique people because no one is perfect. Positive reinforcement is more effective than negative punishment. Shaming, guilt-tripping, ridiculing, reprimanding often reinforces stigma towards mental health. Develop the self-awareness and self-control to hold our tongues from quick judgey comments and grow in compassion to accept people in their imperfections.
5. Words matters.
There is a sensitivity in our society to triggers, trauma, and micro-aggressions. Verbalize your intent as you engage with people in conversation. "I want to help. I want to listen. I care for you." Ask for consent, "Is it okay if I share my perspective? Can I ask about that?" Be quick to apologize when you get something wrong or don't know.
6. Acknowledge other attributes in addition to their mental health.
People are not defined by their emotions, thought patterns, or habits, these are only a part of who they are. Other attributes to acknowledge include their life experiences, their skills, talents, abilities, hobbies, interests, academic and professional careers, roles in the community, social lives, and racial/cultural and spiritual identities.
7. Explain mental health on a continuum.
It is helpful to scale mental health topics on a continuum because it encompasses all of life. For example if someone is feeling down you can ask: On a scale of 1-10 (10 being the strongest) how sad are you? How debilitating is it? Can you get out of bed, complete tasks at home, go to work? How long have you felt this way? How often do you have these depressive spells?
8. Listen, support, acknowledge, ask, validate, encourage one another.
Be curious and respectful. "You seem tired, are you alright? What's going on?" "You have a lot on your plate right now, how are you holding up?" "What's on your mind? I want to hear." "Just talk, I won't give advice, I won't talk about myself. I just want to hear from you."
9. Provide accommodations.
School and work-places are legally obligated to provide accommodations for those who have disabilities. Similarly, we can make accommodations in our relationships for another. You can treat a friend to a coffee, dessert, meal. Take them out for a walk in a park. Invite them over to hang out. As you give your time, energy, resources, and yourself, both you and your friend will benefit from giving and receiving.
10. Be honest.
We have a natural tendency to cover up our struggles. We want to present ourselves in a positive. So at times, it may be helpful to interrupt this tendency and be honest with a trusted friend. "I know I said things have been going well, but to be honest, I am not okay."