May is mental health awareness month, and I’ve seen a lot of great blog posts related to this. But I wonder sometimes if we’re doing a lot of preaching to the choir and not necessarily creating a lot of change in stigma on a broader scale. I know that researchers like Patrick Corrigan have found that exposing people to individuals with mental illness is one of the most effective ways to counteract stigma. So sharing our stories is a good thing, but how do we make sure we’re reaching the right people with our anti-stigma message?
Facing stigma online
When it comes to challenging stigma online, it’s my belief that we have to pick our battles, at least to some extent. Besides the trolls who are just plain nasty, there seems to be a subset of people who actively choose ignorance and aren’t interested in being exposed to new ideas (or reality for that matter). I always feel bad for people who get sucked in trying to educate this group of folks and end up frustrated by these folks’ intransigence. I think our best chance of success is with people who are ignorant due to lack of exposure rather than due to head-up-ass syndrome. So, how to find those people and how to reach them?
There are a lot of organizations out there working hard to spread an anti-stigma message. This is useful, but there are also limits. These types of organizations often focus on specific events or awareness-raising campaigns. Initiatives like Mental Health Month in the United States, Mental Health Awareness Week in Canada and the United States, and Bell Let’s Talk Day in Canada can reach large target audiences, but whether that audience is actually engaging beyond a token retweet or two is debatable. This is a dialogue that needs to happen year-round, and I think that’s where we as individuals come in.
Telling our stories
We’re the ones that really bring a human face to mental illness. We’re the ones who show that it can happen to your parent, friend, or partner. I really don’t know what the best way is, but probably the more different ways we communicate our anti-stigma message the better. Blogging, social media, doing interviews for podcasts, speaking in-person at awareness events… There are a lot of options to choose from, and it’s exciting to read on people’s blogs all the different ways that they’re getting their message out there. And the more of us that are speaking up the better. There’s a heck of a lot of us out there with mental illness, and it seems hard to believe that there’s not somehow a way for us together to create huge change.
If 1 in 4 of us will experience mental illness, and we can each convince 1 person that mental illness is real, it’s serious, and it’s ok, then that’s half the world. The ignoramuses of the world will always be there, but by ignoring them we will have more energy to focus on getting the word out to the people that have the brains to listen. So let’s keep talking.
You can find more about stigma on the Stop Stigma page.