There was a column by actress Glenn Close on Huffington Post today titled “How you can help fight the stigma of ‘mentally ill.'” She co-founded BringChange2Mind in 2009, and the organization has launched the “BringChange2Mind Principles.” They are supposed to be a set of concrete and actionable principles that will help to create a future in which shame is replaced with dignity, misinformation with truth, discrimination with understanding, and isolation with community.
The principles for people living with a mental illness:
I am living with a mental illness that is treatable and manageable.
I am a valuable and valued person and I deserve to be treated with respect.
I am responsible for the decisions and choices I make in my life.
Educating myself about the symptoms of my illness, and any side effects I may have from treatment, will help me find and use the resources I need to work toward stability.
Communicating about my experiences with others will help them support me in difficult times and keep me “on track.”
If I am feeling suicidal, it is critical that I reach out for help, for in the face of real pain and suffering, it is others who can help me with a commitment to live. I can reduce stigma in myself and in others by being open about living with mental illness, naming it out loud, and raising people’s awareness.
The principles for everyone:
It is likely that someone I know is living with a mental illness and that fear of stigma may be preventing them from accepting their illness and seeking help.
I can make a difference by learning about mental health issues and the devastating effects of stigma.
If someone I know exhibits sudden changes in behavior, I will pay attention and reach out to them.
If someone I know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, I will take it seriously and make every effort to ensure they get help.
I will not perpetuate or tolerate stigma of any kind and will commit myself to changing the way society views people living with mental illness.
Sure, I agree with the principles, but having studied the term ‘stigma,’ I’m not sure if it’s stigma we should be worried about now and/or just plain discrimination. Stigma, according to dictionary.com, means “a mark of disgrace.” I think I deal with the self-perception that there is stigma, but what I’ve dealt in a more concrete sense is pure discrimination—like being rejected for health insurance because of having a mental illness. I guess both are just as harmful, and social stigma is what leads to discrimination. But what we need to confront while combating stigma is the legal discrimination that the mentally ill face. Often times, creating laws that eliminate such discrimination will lead to lessening of this stigma.