Photo by Todd Durkee

“There’s a virus that’s spreading amongst us. It’s not a disease, but it’s toxic. It’s not genetic, but we’re all at risk. You can contract it from a stranger or friend. You can catch it at the movies or from a friend. If you’ve spent one minute on the internet, then you’ve definitely been exposed. What is this virus? It’s stigma.”

1 in 5 Americans deal with mental health issues, and almost all have faced stigma from friends, peers, and strangers. Stigma promotes an environment of shame, fear, and silence. Stigma holds power to diminish self-esteem and robs individuals of social opportunities.

Within the past 50 years, we’ve made substantial progress in the services offered for those that deal with mental health issues. However, as a culture, we’ve made slow progress to explore the multifaceted dimensions of mental health. As a society, we’ve yet to talk about mental health openly without feeling uneasy. Physical ailments such as a broken bone or even a common cold have found a place in ‘normal’ conversation, yet conversations on mental health are still on the sidelines.

Tackling the unfavorable outlook surrounding mental health starts by encouraging more people to talk about it openly, but more importantly, it starts with ourselves. Otherwise, as research shows, people won’t seek the medical support they need ― support that can lead to recovery. Untreated mental health conditions can lead to a loss in productivity, poor sleep habits and withdrawal from social situations.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is one of largest grassroots mental health organizations, advocating access to mental health services, treatment, support, and research. They’re also one of the many organizations blazing the path forward helping us change the conversation on mental health by starting with our selves to help identify our own stigma-- because our actions and words weigh heavily and have impact. How do we start? According to the NAMI website, these are some of the ways we can help #CureStigma:

Take the Stigma Quiz:
Stigma is a virus that prevents people from seeking help. Be a part of the cure, get tested for stigma

Be an Ally:
Don’t isolate individuals dealing with mental health issues. Instead, find the tools and resources to continue to support them to help them thrive.

Educate Yourself and Others:
 Understanding mental health isn't only about being able to identify symptoms and having a name for conditions, but dispelling false ideas about mental health conditions as well.

Take Action:
Our mental health care system has been in crisis for far too long; often keeping treatment and recovery out of the hands of many who need it. We can take action now as we push for better legislation and policies to improve lives for everyone.

Navigating life with a mental health condition can be tough, and the isolation, blame, and secrecy that is often encouraged by stigma can create considerable challenges to reaching out, getting needed support and living well. Together we can help #CureStigma and flip the script to help promote access to much-needed services those that are affected with mental health need.

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