Combatting Stigma

The stigma that enshrouds mental illness to this day has for thousands of years led to substandard living for a person with a psychiatric disability. We are, thanks to advocates for change, free of some of the heinous treatments of the past such as insulin shock, and chaining us to walls. However, most people with a mental illness feel shamed into silence because our society promotes the myth that we are dangerous (ie, psychopathic serial killers), that we are stupid or mentally challenged (as if one brain problem makes the entire brain stop working properly), that we have personality defects and not legitimate illnesses (as if a brain disorder is somehow different from a disorder of the heart, kidneys, or lungs), that we could pull ourselves up by our collective bootstraps and just "get over it" if we really wanted to, that we are not sick but are actually lazy, that we are hopeless, that we cannot become well once we have been psychotic, that we look like freakish characters from horror movies (when we really look just like you), and other stereotypes.

The end result of this stereotyping is that millions of people suffer due to lack of awareness about their illness, lack of access to affordable treatment because our society does not put enough funding into affordable treatment for mental illnesses, an inability to get their insurance company to care for their mental health to the same degree that it covers their other, physical health, and economic hardships and homelessness from the poverty that results when a person is not able to work.

We refer to people with Schizophrenia as "Schizophrenics", not "people with Schizophrenia". We refer to people with Bipolar Disorder as "being bipolar", as if it were a state of mind or a personality issue and not a disease. We do not refer to people with cancer as "cancerous people", or people with AIDS as "AIDS person". But, times are changing. In the world of mental health advocacy the term that has been adopted is "consumer". I am a consumer of mental health services. I am not a victim, or a patient, or a number in a statistic. As a consumer, I actively participate in the treatment of my illness.

Here are some excellent organizations working for more awareness of mental illnesses, education about them, and funding for treatment:

The National Alliance on Mental Illness This organization is one which I personally belong to and can vouch for as far as its effective programs such as the Peer-to-Peer and Family-to-Family courses, which are free and open to people who have mental illnesses (ie, consumers) and the consumers' families. To raise awareness, NAMI has a Stigma Busters web page and email list, the In Our Own Voice program, and other programs where people teach the public about mental health issues. The NAMI Consumer Council is a way consumers can get involved in their own communities with raising awareness and advocating for mental health. You might want to join a NAMI chapter/affiliate in your area and get involved.

Mental Health America This is a national organization that has local chapters in some parts of the United States. There is not a local chapter where I live, so I have not been personally involved with the organization, but from what I read on their website and emails, they are doing great work. You might want to join a chapter in your area and get involved.

Bring Change 2 Mind This is a new campaign with some excellent videos, websites, and a Facebook page that is actively used to create awareness about mental illnesses. You might have seen the commercials with Glenn Close, the actress who has come forward as part of this campaign to talk about her sister's battle with Bipolar Disorder.

Active Minds: Changing the Conversation About Mental Health This is an organization of college students, empowering students at schools around the United States to talk about mental health, seek treatment for mental illnesses, and not be ashamed. They have a speakers bureau which travels the country.

SAMHSA's Resource Center to Promote Acceptance, Dignity, and Social Inclusion Associated with Mental Health: This is a government initiative. This website has a section called Take Action, with advice for things you can do to help decrease stigma, and a section called My Story, where you can read true stories of people who have experienced mental illnesses, in order to gain a more accurate understanding of what they are like.

The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance has support groups and works to improve life for people with mood disorders. I went to some of their support groups years ago when my diagnosis was Major Depression, and they were helpful.

No Kidding, Me Too is a new organization that started in the past couple of years by the actor Joe Pantoliano and they have some videos on their site and an active Facebook page dedicated to ending the stigma that surrounds "brain dis-ease".

Rethink in the U.K, this is an excellent advocacy group.

The Mental Health Foundation is another U.K.-based organization that works to combat stigma and has a useful website.

Here is an inspiring poem, good for advocates of all kinds:

"The Low Road"
-by Marge Piercy

Alone, you can fight,
you can refuse, you can
take what revenge you can
but they roll over you.
But two people fighting
back to back can cut through
a mob, a snake-dancing file
can break a cordon, an army
can meet an army.
Two people can keep each other
sane, can give support, conviction,
love, massage, hope, sex.
Three people are a delegation,
a committee, a wedge. With four
you can play bridge and start
an organization. With six
you can rent a whole house,
eat pie for dinner with no
seconds, and hold a fund raising party.
A dozen makes a demonstration.
A hundred fill a hall.
A thousand have solidarity and your own newsletter;
ten thousand, power and your own paper;
a hundred thousand, your own media;
ten million, your own country.

It goes on one at a time,
It starts when you care
to act, it starts when you do
it again after they said no,
it starts when you say We
and know who you mean, and each
day you mean one more.


  1. This is fabulous - just had to tell you. I will be featuring this post on my next Monday Madness post 18th July. Thought I should let you know. You posted linked up and I wanted to link up to that post, but you linked up your blog - which is fine - just meant I had to choice which post to feature ;D X

    Hope you're well. Shah.x

  2. I love this!
    when discussing my mental illness, people often respond to me, "so you're bipolar?"
    NO. I am not bipolar. people with cancer are not CANCER. they HAVE cancer. I HAVE bipolar II.

    another organization I love is no kidding, me too (NKM2.ORG). they are all about knocking out the stigma of brain dis-EASE.

  3. Diane Rene,
    I didn't see your post here before, but I wanted to add that I have put No Kidding, Me Too on the page now. Thanks for your input!

  4. I love the flow of the poem. It's really inspiring. Having these kinds of disorders do not necessarily mean that you are less of a person. It is unfortunate to think that there are people who are diagnosed with these disorders but the people that surround them must show support.
    children with disabilities

  5. After reading this section of your blog, I am left thinking and simply saying: Thank you.

    You've higlighted some important facts- how individuals like us, back in the day were tormented, stigmaticizing terminology such as "schizophrenic," and a range of organzations that are helping us fight back!

    Thank you.


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