It’s easy to see why talking about our mental health may not be easy. Research shows that public stigma, or society’s negative attitudes and behaviors surrounding mental health, and self-stigma, the internalization of those attitudes, prevent many from reaching out and getting the support they need. Stigma can also lead to exclusion from jobs, housing, social activities and relationships.
But the truth is, mental health challenges are so common that you probably know someone who is experiencing or has experienced a mental health challenge. According to the Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) curriculum, nearly half of all U.S. adults will experience a mental illness at some point in their life. Each year, that’s about one in five U.S. adults and one in six youth aged 6-17.
MHFA can help you dismantle the stigma that keeps people from speaking up and getting help. It teaches you to understand, identify and respond to signs and symptoms of mental health and substance use challenges with compassion and facts.
With that knowledge, MHFA also helps dispel common myths and misconceptions about mental health. By filling knowledge gaps and increasing our understanding of mental illness, we can bring greater awareness to the reality of the challenges people may be facing. Statements like, “People can use willpower to pull themselves out of a mental health or substance challenge,” or “A mental health or substance use challenge is a weakness,” can be harmful and prevent people from seeking treatment.
As a First Aider, you can be the first line of support for someone experiencing a mental health or substance use challenge. You can #BeTheDifference by helping that person get the information and support they need. Research has shown that talking about our challenges can encourage others to do the same. Having these difficult conversations helps reduce mental health stigma so more people reach out for the support they need.
This is why it’s important to understand mental health and substance use challenges. As a First Aider, you have the information and resources to identify and respond to signs and symptoms among your family, friends, neighbors, teachers, and even yourself. You can support early intervention for people in need, help reduce stigma and discrimination, and support your loved one’s journey to recovery.
Reducing stigma around mental health can start as simply as asking someone how they’re really doing. By taking the first step, and encouraging an open and honest conversation, you can #BeTheDifference for yourself and your loved ones.
For more ways on how you can start the conversation and support a loved one, take a look at our blogs:
American Psychiatric Association. (August 2020). Stigma, Prejudice and Discrimination Against People with Mental Illness. https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/stigma-and-discrimination
Committee on the Science of Changing Behavioral Health Social Norms Board on Behavioral, Cognitive, and Sensory Sciences; Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education; National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2016, August 3). Ending Discrimination Against People with Mental and Substance Use Disorders: The Evidence for Stigma Change. National Academies Press https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK384914/
Mental Health First Aid USA. (2020). Mental Health First Aid. Washington, DC: National Council for Mental Wellbeing.