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Mental Wellness: The stigma of Mental Illness

In my first career in Early Childhood Education, one of the first tools used as an educator was the developmental scale. The scale measures infants' and children's developmental

milestones, skills, and abilities based on age. Using this scale, Early Childhood educators pay close attention to social-emotional awareness milestones. Most educators will agree this milestone is more important than any other because if a child is under-developing emotionally or socially, they will not meet the other milestones successfully. Social/emotional development is directly related to mental health. It is proven that mental problems we discover as adults are formed from childhood traumas, environmental stressors, or are a predestined genetic makeup. So exploring how childhood and family trauma affects a person's mental health is a significant factor in treating their mental illness.

Unfortunately, many mental conditions we see now as adults could have been prevented, less severe, or cured if appropriately diagnosed and addressed early on. There are so many reasons mental illness is overlooked or not treated until something unbearable happens, and many of those reasons have to do with mental health stigma.

The definition of stigma is a mark of disgrace, shame, dishonor, and stain put upon something or someone based on race, culture, or ethnicity.

When associated with mental illness, stigma is a label put upon a person as crazy or psychotic.

Individuals diagnosed with a mental illness are treated differently and made to feel ashamed or devalued. The stereotype of mental illness can then lead to discrimination, hence complicating the mental condition. People with mental illness may not be offered career opportunities or keep a job. They may be excluded from social groups or become victims of violence or assault. The stigma of mental illness is a cultural construct that makes it difficult for individuals with a mental illness to seek help.

This construct can easily create a Self-Stigma, also known as self-shame.

Self-shame is display as, low self-esteem, apathy, oppositional behavior, or narcissistic personality traits. It is the responsibility of the persons modeling self-stigma to take accountability for individuals with a damaged sense of self by social stigma.

I can confidently say the tides have turned when we talk about mental illness and bringing awareness to Mental Health and wellness. In recent years, we hear more celebrities and athletes talking about mental wellness, also actually making themselves an example. They allow the public to see their struggles with mental illness.

Famous figures like Simone Biles pulled herself out of the Olympic games to focus on her mental wellness, giving up her chance to make the goal in her most notable competitions.

Years before, Michael Phelps spoke about his battle with ADHD. Chrissy Teigen and Adele shared personal stories about their Post-Partum depression. Kanye West and other celebrities talk candidly about their experience with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), bipolar disorder, and depression.

This level of awareness has a significant impact on society. There is still much work to be done, but the first step to good mental health is acceptance of the mental challenge. Social attention has a direct effect on breaking down stigma.

In 2015, the percentage of adults who reported having a mental illness was 17.9%, out of the US population. In 2020 it grew to 21%. Presently, 1 in 5 adults is experiencing mental illness in the United States. Mental illness can severely affect a community, such as suicide, criminal behavior, substance abuse, domestic abuse, and individuals with issues like toxic relationships, mental disability, peer pressure, or job instability.

Fear can paralyze an individual and make them feel hopeless. Why is it important to heal from mental illness? Treating mental illness will prevent harm to yourself and others and reduce a lifetime of pain and suffering for generations.

Types of mental illnesses are vast and determined by a multitude of variables such as age, behavioral pattern, dramatic changes of behavior, and the cause of those changes. Below are just some general symptoms that may prompt a person to seek professional help or get a mental health check:

  • Suicidal thoughts (if you or someone you know are planning suicide seek help immediately)

  • Desire to hurt yourself or others (if you or someone you know are planning to hurt yourself or someone else seek help immediately)

  • Excessive use of alcohol or drugs

  • Feelings of extreme sadness or depression

  • Constantly confused or inability to concentrate

  • Excessive overthinking or overreacting

  • Frequent bouts of raging anger and/or violence

  • Sudden changes in sex drive or unhealth sexual behaviors

  • Heighten levels of fears or worries

  • Deep feelings of guilt

  • Extreme mood swings (very happy or very sad)

  • Lack of energy

  • Sleep disturbances, extreme tiredness

  • Unable to manage tasks, problem-solve, manage stress

  • Lack of empathy, unable to connect with others

  • Inability to communicate effectively

  • Deep feelings of being challenged

  • Extreme feelings of distrust

  • Undereating or overeating. Unhealthy eating habits

  • Unexplained withdrawal from friends or social activities

Here are thoughts on how to cope with mental illness:

  • Practice self-care and good habits; stress is a direct cause of illness in the body. Self-care practices will reduce mental pressure and result in stress reduction.

  • Regular intake of herbs such as lavender and chamomile can effectively boost mental health.

  • Share (modestly) about your life experiences with mental health. Transparency helps to reduce stigma. Real-life stories build rapport, connection, and trust.

  • Try not to internalize the illness. You are not your illness. You are not weak. You are not crazy.

  • Understanding the origin of your mental illness will help in your treatment.

  • Seek professional help get the facts about mental illness get facts about your symptoms and the most effective treatment. Note, there's nothing wrong with fact-checking.

  • Get a support team; surround yourself with people you trust, feel comfortable with, and who will be good to you, strive to build healthy relationships.

  • Assert yourself and defend against false information, discriminatory attacks, and stigma.

  • Use resources, health insurance companies offer behavioral health benefits and local and federal agencies have helplines or hotlines, some are listed below this article. Remember you are never alone.

  • Trust yourself. You know yourself better than anyone else.

  • Give yourself time to heal. It may take 10 days or 10 years, it doesn't matter...

Thoughts on ways to help reduce the stigma:

  • Support people with mental illness, show empathy, and be sensitive to their struggle even if you do not understand.

  • Knowledge is power. Whenever you gain information about mental illnesses, share it.

  • Provide positive factual news when presented with the opportunity. Correct misinformation

  • Do a mental health 'self-check-in'. Are you displaying behaviors of mental illness? Or do you exhibit self-stigma? How are you being perceived by others, at home, at work, or in your social circle? It is okay to ask these questions to yourself. Seek help before the your symptoms develop and become more than you can handle.


National substance abuse and mental health helplines:

Prunella Organic Health Apothecary offers' health coaching services. Health Coaching is a form of counseling providing support in all areas of mental and physical wellness.


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