Reprinted from "Recovery: Stigma and Inclusion" issue of Visions Journal, 2017, 13 (1), p. 4
I’m sick of stigma. And sadly, those reluctant to seek help or continue treatment are too—they remain literally unwell because of stigma. Does anyone else feel like the mental health and addictions movement is stuck in the 20th century and everyone but us has moved beyond stigma to look at the conditions that create it? Because don’t forget that stigmas are not inevitable: they can be created (think smoking) and reduced (think cancer). Other movements have embraced a human rights model and focused on anti-discrimination policies. After all, the transgender movement doesn’t talk about stigma, it talks about social justice. Why has our field been so slow to do the same?
When I think of why stigma still lingers, I get it. There are parts of us that we cannot really change like age, race, gender identity, physical disability, and sexual orientation. But mental illness and addictions can and do change; they develop at some point and can get better or worse. But more than anything else, they affect what is arguably the core of our humanity: our thoughts, our emotions, our behaviours, and our interactions with the world. Anything that disrupts that, frankly, terrifies us. So better to keep “those people” over there and blame and fear them.
But I do see hope. The stories in this issue of Visions are incredibly moving and instructive about what helps and what hurts. Effective treatments are out there like never before and people are using them. There is an invisible sea of people across BC who are in recovery and live well (yet only a few of their nearest and dearest know it!).
If you are one of those in the invisible sea, consider these facts. Meeting people with lived experience is the best way to eradicate stigma against mental illness and addiction.1 People who know a family member or friend who has sought mental health care are more likely to seek help themselves.2 The most effective anti-stigma message is a humanizing one that communicates that mental health and substance problems are an understandable response to someone’s unique situation.3 You don’t have to go on TV or shout it from the rooftops but if you sought help, consider telling at least one more person in your life your story. Just think of the power if our invisible sea were made visible.
About the author
Sarah is Visions Editor and Director of Mental Health Promotion at the Canadian Mental Health Association’s BC Division
See articles by Heather Stuart, Laurie Edmundson, and Steven J. Barnes in this issue.
University of Ottawa. (2017, May 1). Seeking help for mental health issues inspires others to do the same: Study. https://media.uottawa.ca/news/seeking-help-mental-health-issues-inspires-others-do-same-study
Martin, N. (2009). From discrimination to social inclusion: A review of the literature on anti stigma initiatives in mental health. Queensland Alliance. http://www.mhcc.org.au/media/5646/from-discrimination-to-social-inclusion-lit-review.pd