It is estimated that approximately one in four people in the UK will experience some form of mental illness each year. Having a strong understanding of mental illness is key to overcoming negative stigmas that surround mental health. Whether it’s mild levels of stress or a more severe mental illness like chronic depression, it is important to know how to combat the negative attitudes that contribute to the mental health stigma.
There is no doubt that everyone, at some point, will suffer some form of mental health problem. Being able to speak openly, comfortably and freely about mental illness can help generate more positive attitudes surrounding mental health and assist in breaking the mental illness stigma.
Different Types of Mental Illness
According to the DSM-5, there are over 300 different types of mental health issues. Similar to physical illness, each one will display different symptoms, and every individual will exhibit symptoms uniquely. Some of the most common mental illnesses include:
- Anxiety disorder
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- panic disorder
- Eating disorders
- Personality disorders
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Psychotic disorders
- Depression, bipolar disorder, and other mood disorders
These are just a few examples of the most common types of mental illness that people can suffer from. If someone you know has been diagnosed with a mental illness, it is important to understand the symptoms that the disorder can create so that you can be as understanding and supportive as possible. A brilliant way to do this is to research as much as you can or speak to mental health professionals to gain insight on what to expect and what can be done to help.
Understanding Mental Illness
Listening is key to understanding people with mental illness and helping to overcome mental health stigma and remove any mental illness label that might have developed. When someone is experiencing a mental disorder, it may be difficult at times to understand their actions, or you may feel confused by what they are telling you, especially if they have a serious mental illness. Depending on the type of mental disorder they have, their actions may not make logical sense from an outsider’s perspective. It is okay to ask someone how they are doing and encourage them to open up so you can offer support. It is important to not be forceful about this and know they will talk to you when they feel comfortable. If someone confides in you about how they feel, it is important to listen to what they tell you and refrain from imposing any judgment on them. Depending on the condition, their perception of reality may be altered.
For example, someone with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) may believe they have to do some things in a certain way like washing their hands a certain number of times or something bad might happen. As an outsider, you may think this is illogical; however, to them, this is their current state of reality. If you cast judgement, they may feel embarrassed and hold back from speaking up again. By listening and showing support and offering advice to help, they are more likely to remain open with you, which will benefit their healing process.
Signs of Mental Illness
As previously mentioned, there is an extensive array of psychological conditions, and they will affect people differently. A proper understanding of the signs and symptoms associated with a mental illness can help break the mental health stigma and identify the best type of mental health care required in each case.
There are a few common visible signs that you can look out for if you believe someone you know is struggling with their mental health. People with mental illness may suffer the following:
- Feeling constantly sad
- Poor concentration or feeling confused
- Extreme mood changes, alternating between highs and lows
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Lack of motivation toward activities
- Increased tiredness or problems sleeping
- Inability to cope with daily challenges or stress
- Increased alcohol or drug use
- Changes in eating habits
- Changes in libido
- Excessive anger, hostility or violence
- Suicidal thoughts
- Continuously worrying
- Feeling detached from reality
- Paranoia or hallucinations
Again, it must be noted that these are just a few common signs that some people with mental illness may exhibit. However, other signs and symptoms may be present, so if you notice any changes in the personality or behaviour of someone you know, you should remain alert to any further signs that develop and offer them support.
Breaking the Stigma of Mental Health
Unlike physical conditions, many mental health conditions are not obvious, and often people will suffer in silence throughout their day-to-day life and might feel embarrassed to speak openly. Unfortunately, previous attitudes have created a negative stigma around mental health that has forced some people to cover up their feelings or suffer alone for fear of being judged.
Fortunately, there has been a shift in attitudes towards mental health, and we have come a long way. People are becoming more understanding and supportive, encouraging people to speak more freely and openly about their mental health problems. However, while there may be still a long way to go before the stigma is completely broken, there are a few things we can do to help make this happen.
Tips for Breaking the Stigma
Often people think a change will only occur when other people are on board, and people of influence speak out and raise awareness; however, this is not true. Change takes place right here, and every one of us can make a huge difference. Together we can break down the stigma by:
- Speaking openly about mental health
- Educating ourselves and others around us
- Understanding that mental health should be treated with the same importance as physical health
- Being compassionate to those around us that are struggling with mental health
- Empowering those around us
- Not shaming anyone
- Being honest about our own mental health challenges
- Be mindful of the language we are using
When people hear us speak freely about mental health, it will encourage them to do the same. The more we speak openly about mental illness, the less of a taboo it becomes. There is no shame in struggling with mental health, and we can reinforce that concept through our actions.
Behaving Correctly Towards Mental Illness
To help towards breaking the stigma surrounding mental illness, it is essential to know the correct ways to approach someone with mental illness and know the appropriate ways to offer support. This will help to reassure the person that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of.
Steps towards helping include:
- Build trust – by building trust, you will help to build a psychologically safe environment where someone will feel comfortable enough with you to be able to open up. When someone talks about their mental health, they may feel insecure or vulnerable, especially if they have a psychiatric illness. It is important to develop trust so they know they are safe to speak freely.
- Keep an open mind – everyone is unique and thinks differently, so it’s important to be open to alternative ways of thinking.
- Avoid clichéd comments – saying things like “cheer up” and “don’t worry” may feel like they are coming from a place of care and concern. However, someone who has no control over how they are feeling may feel patronised. For example, someone with a depressive disorder may not have the ability to feel cheerful in their current state of mind, so it is important to be mindful of how they present themselves to you.
- Be patient – most mental disorders will improve, but they won’t get better overnight. You may feel like you are not noticing any improvement in someone who is mentally ill; however, everyone improves at different rates, so avoid making them feel like they are against the clock. Reassure them that it is okay not to be okay and that support is there for as long as they need it.
- Educate yourself – if someone you are close to is diagnosed with a mental illness, you will play a large part in their recovery. Therefore, it is good practice to research the condition and the mental health treatment suggested. Having the correct mental health resources, such as guides and access to support groups and mental health services, will help to develop your knowledge. Mental illness treatment will vary depending on the condition, so research what to expect if someone you know is suffering from a mental health condition. For example, anxiety disorders will manifest differently depending on the person, so it is advisable to understand the ways that anxiety can affect people and learn how you can help them feel at ease. The same goes for any other mental illnesses.
Many mental health issues face public stigma. However, this outdated attitude is, fortunately, quickly changing. Mental illness is something that no one should feel ashamed of, and people should be able to chat openly and freely about their troubles. At The Revoke Programme, we offer a range of services tailored to help treat many forms of mental health conditions. Contact us today to find out more.