How Do We Spread Our Anti-Stigma Message?

How do we fight stigma most effectively?

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?

Anti-stigma organizations

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.  

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.

Stop the stigma of mental illness - graphic of a red phoenix

There’s more on mental illness stigma on the Stop Stigma page.

23 thoughts on “How Do We Spread Our Anti-Stigma Message?”

  1. Yaโ€™ know I wonder if we are sometimes preaching to the choir too. But, my motto too is, lets keep the conversation going. We never know who may be listening in. Great Post! ๐Ÿ’

  2. Yeah, I try to raise awareness by telling just about everyone I know that I’m schizophrenic. There are three typical responses (in a broad sense):

    1) “Really? Interesting! I’d ask for more details, but I don’t want to pry.”
    2) “Oh, you are? Well….. I’m normal, so…. I don’t think we can be friends. But I’ll pretend to be your friend until you get the picture that I’m blowing you off. Depending on my level of maturity, you’ll get the picture within five minutes or a few weeks.”
    3) “Oh, I see. So, your father takes care of you, and you’re completely dependent upon him?”

    The first response comes from people I often wind up becoming good friends with. The second response comes from people who cling to their own normalcy and coolness like security blankets. Those people may act friendly, but they’re too obsessed with image. That third response comes from the totally ignorant people who I’m usually not stupid enough to enlighten with my diagnosis in the first place.

    It’s hard for me to think about stigma, because my mind works more psychologically than sociologically. (I aced the first subject in college–majored in it, actually–and struggled with the second.)

    You make awesome points about how there’s a number of people who just aren’t worth the effort, because they cling to their own ignorance. And you raise good questions, too, which I hope we can come up with answers for.

    1. It’s so strange the kind of reactions people have, and I think the reactions say much more about them rather than the person with the mental illness.

  3. So true about the ignoramuses; we can only do what we can to raise awareness, increase knowledge and generate compassion, then ignore those who will forever be ignorant. Love the post! x

    1. Thanks! That’s a great point about compassion; it probably gets talked about less, but is just as important as awareness and knowledge.

      1. Me too but it’s going to be tough. I believe I need to have a much stronger blog with stats and all in order to sell mission. They have to see that there is a strong voice out there. But no hurry, it will come

  4. Hey there….. my book didn’t win in the contest, nor was it a finalist. I’m so bummed out!! ๐Ÿ™ Oh well. Life goes on.

  5. One of the best illustrations I like to use with people is that of an apple tree (or pear, insert your fav fruit). Mental health services do not bring the branch down to the person, but provide a step ladder so you can reach the fruit. Its about acquiring the tools you need to live a happy and productive life

  6. I think that raising awareness is very important, and includes things like an accurate and *diverse* portrayal of mental illness in film and tv. At a government or corporate funding level though, I think it is risky to keep “raising awareness” and then not providing any follow through on that. One of the worst examples I’ve seen is at my daughter’s university. They put $1000 toward promoting RUOK Day (a suicide prevention thing) and the very same week cut the number of counsellors funded by the university from 6 to 3.

    1. All very good points. Hypocricy like what happened at your daughter’s university does more harm than good for those with mental health problems.

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