How Mental Health First Aid Courses Can End Stigma

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It’s 2017 and there is still such a strong stigma surrounding mental health. Don’t believe me? Upon recently attending a Mental Health First Aid workshop, I learned how common it is for us to call former cancer patients “survivors” while also calling those with a mental illness that had a failed suicide attempt “suicidal”. That sort of label sticks around and demonizes those with a mental illness. Treating mental illnesses as seriously as we do other illnesses is one step towards ending the stigma. At this workshop, a lot of stigmas surrounding mental health were brought up. One stigma mentioned was that we don’t call those with a flu or cold “pneumonic”, we just say that the person has pneumonia. But, we do call those with schizophrenia “schizophrenic”, instead of a person with schizophrenia. Such a label is powerful, and it causes a person to feel more like their illness than themselves.

Because of this, we don’t see the person as a human being, suffering emotionally, psychologically, and physically, but rather, as just their illness and only their illness.

Due to negative stigmas like these, only 41% of those with a mental health disorder seek professional help, according to the accredited textbook, “Mental Health First Aid USA”. That is 59% that do not seek help, therefore they suffer in silence without help, or without even knowing why they are suffering.

As someone who is suffering from anxiety, I can relate to these stigmas, especially the one that is engrained into our brains that seeking professional help is a major sign of weakness.

There are also portions of this workshop that cover the rise of mental illness among the LGBT+ community and how their internalized repression by being closeted from their family and friends causes large levels of stress and fear of being found out, ultimately leading to the development of anxiety and depression. They have three times the risk of developing an anxiety disorder or major depressive disorder. These people will desperately do anything to avoid letting anyone discover their sexuality, and they fear getting labeled and judged by others, thus developing a mental disorder involving paranoia.

Programs and workshops, like those given by Mental Health First Aid, should be implemented in schools so that students can become educated and destigmatize the negative connotations to mental health. Doing so can allow peers to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental illness in their peers or even themselves, which can lead to more of an acceptance to intervention and seeking appropriate professional help. These workshops can also teach students how to respond to certain situations, especially if they find themselves talking to someone with suicidal thoughts.

Living with a mental disorder is not what solely defines those affected, even though a lot of people think it does. It is something constant that has no “cure”, but does have recovery. Those affected by their mental illness are real human beings and should not be only looked at through the lens of their disorder. It is a constant battle within the mind that affect’s daily activities, work, and personal relationships until a person is left with only their horrific thoughts. By educating society, even slowly, we can help make a difference and end this pessimistic stigma. TC mark

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