Five Quick Steps You can take to Reduce Mental Health Stigma
For Mental Health Professionals, Mental Health / By The Emotional Wellness Initiatives

If you’ve ever been shoved in the school hall because you were ‘uncool’ or politely boycotted by your friends because you chose a different lifestyle, you’ve experienced what ‘stigma’ feels like. It stings. And stigma is what a person suffering from a mental/psychological condition experiences. Every day. Every minute. Everywhere. And their mental health constantly declines!

You wouldn’t shun a friend who went through a gall-bladder surgery. Then why would you stop taking calls of a friend who got back from psychiatric care or a rehab? Just because it was his mind that broke, and not his body? Because he/she was unable to cope with whatever life was ladling out to him/her and went for help? Just because, unfortunately, he/she didn’t have the emotional support system of family and peers that you were lucky enough to be born into? Do you think that’s fair? Shouldn’t we look at mental health in the same way we look at physical health?

We all know the answer to that.

Would you like to take a step forward today and make a psychologically unwell person feel better? Then do any one or all of the following. You can change someone’s life.

1. Be the first to shake on it. A colleague at work got back after a stint in a psychiatric clinic because he went through a rough phase when he lost his wife/child/family/house? Go ahead be the first one to extend your hand and shake his. When a psychologically unwell person returns to his old life, he/she is full of apprehensions and insecurities. Most of which turn out to be self-fulfilling prophecies because of the way he/she gets treated by their peers. And to a fragile mind, that’s enough to send it reeling back to a relapse of his previous condition or hurtling towards a new one. So make that colleague feel welcome and let him know that their old life is waiting for them the way they left it.

2. Educate yourself. Recently came across someone suffering from a psychiatric/psychological disorder? Before forming any half-baked opinions, go home and read up! Find out as much as you can about that particular condition and more often than not you would be surprised to find how harmless but painful that person’s condition is. Not all psychologically disturbed people are out to kill you or gouge your eyes out. And unless you understand what went into their disorder, you won’t know what they are going through.

3. Offer help, not pity. If you know someone who is fighting a mental illness or has recently taken treatment for one, offer to help them out at work or home.  At work you can offer to share some of the workload, to do some background research for their presentations or even to put in a couple of extra hours to help them finish a new plan. At home you could bring them their favorite food, help clean up or arrange/move furniture, offer to babysit their kids, or even to go shopping with them. But NEVER make them feel that you’re doing this because they can’t. Instead, be there as support so they can do the job even better than before.

4. No condolences, please! They have suffered from a medical condition not lost someone by death. So don’t go up and say “I’m so sorry to hear about your condition”. If you’re at a loss for what to say, just behave like you do every day and a simple “Hey there, how are you?” would suffice. You don’t need to make them feel different; you need to make them feel normal, that they are just like you.

5. You can do without the kid gloves. Yes, they have gone through or are going through a fragile state of mind but they can do without a dose of “Are you okay”, “Are you sure you can handle this?”, “Hey why don’t you take a breather?”, “Let me know if you start to feel something” every half hour! When you mollycoddle a person too much, you’re only reminding them that they are very sick/very different and hence do not fit in with the rest of the world or that they have totally lost the capacity to function. Just a simple “Hey if you need me I’m here for you” once in a while is good enough to let them know that they have a friend they can count on.

You may have a big heart, but the next time you encounter someone with mental health issues, just try to open your mind too and you would already be halfway to mending the cracks in their lives!