By Manpreet Dhaliwal
Many individuals who live with a mental illness sit in silence due to the possibility of prejudgment, and discrimination. The Canadian Mental Health Association states that 20% of individuals in Canada will deal with a mental illness at one point in the course of their life. Many Canadians who play a significant part in their communities will never be able to speak about living with a mental illness because of the very real possibility that others may look at them in a negative way.
Negative and false beliefs about individuals who live with a mental illness hurt our communities. Society sometimes perpetuates the idea that a person is “less than” because the individual has a mental illness. However, many live normal and healthy lives as they learn to manage the disease through medication and therapy.
Recently, Deepika Padukone a very successful Bollywood actress spoke about how she utilized both medication and counseling to help her with the depression that she had been experiencing. However, unlike Deepika, many individuals do not feel that they can do the same and reach out for help.
Due to the stigma of mental illness, many individuals will feel no choice but to isolate themselves due to the fear of people treating them differently. For some, the shame and stigma may lead to suicide as they are too afraid to reach out for help and treatment due to the possibility of negative assumptions and prejudgments. Research has also shown that stigma directly impact self-esteem. When an individual who lives with a mental illness faces such prejudices, their self-confidence diminishes as they find themselves accepting the false beliefs about their condition that is spreading in their community.
It is important to understand the power of words to create a more respectful and inclusive society. Carefully chosen words would help a great deal to lessen the stigma. As a civilization, we must move away from saying who is bipolar, but identify instead that the person has a bipolar affliction. Hence, it is not what an individual is; but rather, what the affliction he or she has. It is also important to be alert to the damaging effects of certain words. Often adults will use words such as crazy as an insult without understanding the impact and power of the spoken word. Children are always hearing labels such as psycho, crazy, looney tune, or cuckoo, not to mention retard, bonkers, demented, deranged, et al. And sadly, these words are the ones they pick up from adults. These are also the first words that children would utter to insult and put down other children.
These insulting words can end up harming our communities a great deal. A teenager who grows up in a culture that unabashedly uses such disparaging words could lead to making the person at the receiving end, less of a person. And, after a diagnosis of having a mental illness, the victim is always devastated, worrying about the insurmountable hardships he or she had to face.
Unlike Deepika Padukone, who has been able to speak about living with depression, that teenager may sit in silence isolated from friends due to fear that others may make prejudgements about him or her. Thus, it is important to make conscious and consistent efforts to remove stigmatizing words from one’s language to create a supportive environment for individuals who live with a mental illness. It is also important to listen to the stories of individuals who live with mental illness. However, individuals will only feel comfortable enough to speak if our communities provide a safe listening place clear of any assumptions and prejudgments.