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The Happiness Connection  

Stigma of mental illness

Stigma is a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.

The roots of this word lie in Greek and Latin where it refers to a mark made on the skin by a pointed instrument.

Stigmas exist for all sorts of conditions and circumstances. For the most part, they no longer carry a physical mark. That doesn’t make them any less shameful.

Stigma carries a belief that you are an outsider and don’t fit in.

This may have served our ancestors when they were roaming the savanna. Survival of the fittest was important. Humans want to fit in, so stigma was a great tool to shape a society or tribe that would survive.

We have come a long way since then, but some of our programming hasn’t.

One of the things that carries the greatest level of stigma today is mental illness. It still suffers from misunderstanding and is shrouded in shame.

It isn’t the only thing that has been stigmatized. Homosexuality, and being childless are just two examples of circumstances that were viewed as undesirable. To some extent, for some people, they still are.

My ears pricked up yesterday when I was having coffee with my friend. We were talking about our births. Both were stressful situations for our moms. She mentioned that her mom also had to deal with the stigma of having a child when she was 42.

That made me pause to think. Today, few people would even blink if you got pregnant in your 40s.

I can remember my mom saying she was determined to have her children before she was 30. I knew how common it was to get married and have your children when you were young, but I didn’t think about those people who strayed from the norm.

That gives me hope. If the stigma of being an older mom can be removed, so can the one that surrounds mental illness.

Bell Media began an initiative in 2010 to start a conversation about mental health in Canada. With the tagline Let’s Talk, they encouraged millions of Canadians to engage in a public discussion about mental illness.

On each Bell Let’s Talk day, they raise money for mental health programs country wide. To date they have donated over $93 million.

As well as raising money, they want to end the stigma that surrounds mental illness. They suggest five ways you can help to do this.

Language matters

If you don’t suffer from mental illness, you might not be conscious of the hurt words like loony, schizo, and retard carry with them.

I gave a presentation a few years ago where I referred to people who weren’t normal. I was discussing research findings and meant they were outside the norm.

I suffer from depression and the phrase not normal doesn’t bother me, but I’m not everyone. A lady in the audience was triggered and distressed by my words. I’m glad she shared her experience with me, because I am more cautious of my vocabulary as a result.

Educate yourself

How much do you really know about bipolar, depression, or schizophrenia? Learn what is fact and what is fiction. There is a wealth of information available.

Be kind

This might be the best place to start. Compassion is an attitude that can and should be practised every day. It’s not only beneficial for the person you are being kind to, it has remarkable psychological effects on the person being compassionate.

Listen and ask

It is common to hear over-generalizations that apply to a group of people rather than individuals. Canadians may be thought of as polite, but not all of us are and few of us are all the time. The same is true of negative reputations and stigmas.

It is important to connect with individuals, so you don’t get sucked into over-generalizations.

Talk to people touched by mental illness. They aren’t hard to find. Statistics show that one in five Canadians will suffer from mental illness at some point in their lives.

Be sensitive and respectful, and with their permission, ask questions.

Talk about it

Listening and asking questions will lead to better and more frequent conversations. You may be surprised to discover how many people you know who are affected by mental illness. Few are untouched by it.

Wednesday is the next Bell ‘Let’s Talk’ day.

Bell will donate five cents for every text sent and mobile or long-distance call made by their customers. If you aren’t a Bell subscriber, you can use your social media accounts to help earn money for mental health programs.

Bell will donate five cents every time you watch their Bell Let’s Talk Day video on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat. Below are a few other options you can take advantage of.

Twitter – tweet using the hashtag #BellLetsTalk

Facebook – use the Bell Let’s Talk frame

Snapchat – send a snap using the Bell Let’s Talk filter

A nickel may not seem like much, but a million nickels equals $50,000.

Join the millions of people who are touched by mental illness and let’s talk.



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About the Author

Reen Rose is an experienced, informative, and engaging speaker, author, and educator. She has worked for over three decades in the world of education, teaching children and adults in Canada and England.

Research shows that happy people are better leaders, more successful, and healthier than their unhappy counterparts, and yet so many people still believe that happiness is a result of their circumstances.

Happiness is a choice. Reen’s presentations and workshops are designed to help you become robustly happy. This is her term for happiness that can withstand challenge and change.

Reen blends research-based expertise, storytelling, humour, and practical strategies to both inform and inspire. She is a Myers Briggs certified practitioner, a Microsoft Office certified trainer and a qualified and experienced teacher.

Email Reen at [email protected]

Check out her websites at www.ReenRose.com, or www.ModellingHappiness.com



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The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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