Why Talking About Your Mental Illness is Important

by | Jan 1, 2022 | Mental Health

One of the best ways we can break stigmas surrounding mental illness is to start and keep talking about it. Most people who do not struggle with mental illness are unaware that someone they know is struggling with a mental illness. Learn more about the stigma of mental illness, its prevalence in the United States, signs that a person may be struggling, and how you can get the conversation started around your mental health.

The Stigma of Mental Illness

Despite the fact that mental illness is a growing concern for many adults in the United States, the stigma of mental health conditions persists throughout communities. The ‘stigma of mental illness’ refers to “a set of negative attitudes and beliefs that motivate individuals to fear, reject, avoid, and discriminate against people with mental illness”.

This phenomenon likely happens when a person is not properly informed on the nature of different mental conditions and their ability to be managed or treated successfully. They may make assumptions without really knowing about the person’s condition.

Negative Impacts of Stigmatization

Social disapproval can be subtle or it can be blatant, but either way, the individual who is struggling will feel its effects. This may cause them to withdraw and avoid seeking treatment, resulting in worsened mental health and social outcomes. Other negative consequences of stigmatizing beliefs about an individual with a mental disorder include:

  • limited social opportunities;
  • compromised financial autonomy;
  • feelings of shame, guilt, and self-blame;
  • less autonomy and reduced self-efficacy;
  • and coercive treatment (i.e. institutionalization).

Persons with mental illness may face discrimination in a number of social environments such as housing and employment. They are also more prone to homelessness compared to those without a condition, putting them at risk of sexual and physical abuse and addiction.

How Common Is Mental Illness?

In 2019, SAMSHA conducted the National Survey on Drug Use and Health to determine how common any mental illness (AMI) and severe mental illness (SMI) are.

From the survey data, researchers estimated that nearly one in five adults in the United States have AMI; that’s about 51.5 million people and represents about 20.6% of all adults in the U.S. They also found that about 23.0 million (44.8%) of those adults received mental health services during the past year. For the estimated 13.1 million adults with SMI – representing 5.2% of all adults – about 8.6 million (65.5%) of them received mental health treatment during the same period.

According to the available data, mental illness impacts a significant proportion of the population. These values are also likely underestimated due to various factors like response bias (i.e. persons with mental illness refusing to participate) and biases in survey design and sampling (i.e. inability to adequately assess for certain illnesses).

Signs Someone May Be Struggling

Mental illness is a complex field of human health and wellness and involves many different conditions that can overlap in symptoms. Some physical maladies can also share similar symptoms. To an untrained eye, this can make it challenging to discern whether a loved one is struggling with a mental illness or something else entirely.

Nevertheless, the National Alliance on Mental Health explains that there are common warning signs you can look out for in yourself and others that may indicate a problem:

  • Significant weight loss or gain
  • Misuse and abuse of drugs or alcohol
  • Avoiding loved ones and social activities
  • Drastic changes in behavior and personality
  • Feeling excessively low for more than two weeks
  • Attempting to harm or kill oneself/making plans to do so
  • Extreme difficulty concentrating, staying still, and learning
  • Notable changes in sleeping and eating habits or sex drive
  • Out of control risk-taking that can cause harm to oneself or others
  • Unable to sense changes in one’s feelings, behavior, or personality
  • Difficulty perceiving reality or experiencing delusions or hallucinations
  • Severe emotions and mood swings that cause problems in relationships
  • Numerous, unexplainable physical complaints (i.e. vague “aches and pains”)

Sometimes, an individual with a mental condition will experience significant difficulty engaging in everyday tasks and interactions or handling daily problems and stress. In severe circumstances, they may even be incapable of completing everyday activities at all.

How to Start the Conversation 

Engaging in discussion about mental illness helps erode harmful attitudes and beliefs, and helps people gain a deeper understanding of this public health problem. Your approach to discussing mental health depends on the individual you are talking to and how much information you want to disclose regarding your own illness.

Someone who is close to you may already know that you have a mental illness but perhaps they don’t really understand it. Family and couples therapy is a great way to work out any kinks in the relationship caused by your disorder. Also, therapy often contains a psychoeducational component so your loved one can learn about your condition.

Other times, though, you may want to start the conversation with someone you don’t know well. Consider taking an inquisitory but neutral approach where you ask them questions to help them think deeply about their beliefs and opinions. What do they think about mental illness and why? Instead of trying to force them into accepting a particular narrative, get them to draw their own conclusions by staying calm, providing them with information, and letting them express themselves. Oftentimes things you say will stick with people despite a lack of acknowledgment. Perhaps even share your treatment and recovery story; personal stories can be powerful at changing minds!

The stigmatization of individuals with a mental illness is still a common occurrence across American society. Social pressure and discrimination can have a number of negative outcomes, including forgoing treatment necessary to effectively manage the disorder. The best way to break down the stigma around mental illness is to talk about it to loved ones and even people you don’t know well. Sober Life is an addiction and mental health treatment facility located in the vibrant, urban city of downtown San Diego. We’re not your ordinary center, however. We have a very diverse and highly qualified staff that will make you feel understood and a part of our growing community. Our treatment center intentionally has a down-to-earth, real-life feel because we believe treatment and recovery should incorporate experiences of real life. If you or someone you know may have a mental illness, please don’t hesitate to reach out for help. It could change your life. Call today: (619) 542-9542.

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