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How to Combat Stigma

Laura A. Barton
Conversations and awareness efforts for mental health and mental illness do talk about certain disorders, but there are still many mental health conditions we generally don't talk about that we need to destigmatize. Because there is this narrowness of conversation and the heavy stigma around many mental illnesses, there's some work to do when it comes to even approaching how we can tackle the stigma they face.
Laura A. Barton
Talking isn't enough to break mental health stigma, which I think may be a hard pill to swallow. I know how impactful conversation and general mental health awareness efforts can be on an interpersonal level, and I don't mean to say those things aren't important. However, we need to understand that they're not enough to break mental health stigma entirely, and here's why.
Laura A. Barton
The physical symptoms of mental illness and mental health struggles are not often spoken about but are important pieces in understanding mental health overall. I'm sure to some, pairing physical symptoms with something mental seems like a misnomer. Maybe that's part of why physical symptoms are used in the battle against stigma. But can the existence of physical symptoms stop mental health stigma?
Laura A. Barton
When we're combatting mental health stigma, it's important to be as inclusive as possible. One of the ways we fight stigma is to talk about or try to convey the idea that our experiences don't have to fit in a box and that there isn't any shame in not having everything together, in being "messy." But does this saturation of messages mean it's not okay to be, for lack of a better word, "neat?"
Laura A. Barton
Tragedy can bring people together and cause them to rally together for a cause, including mental health. While coming to arms to foster awareness is great, when we do so is also important. Don't wait until tragedy strikes to fight mental health stigma.
Laura A. Barton
The stigma surrounding drug addiction can be just as pervasive as drug addiction itself. It's important to realize that spreading drug addiction stigma doesn't address the overall issue of drug addiction or to people recovering from the illness.
Laura A. Barton
Bands, celebrities, and other icons make a difference by talking about mental health and mental illness. While some may think it's a publicity stunt, having larger-than-life people use their platforms in this way can have a positive impact on their fans and help fight against stigma.
Laura A. Barton
The idea that mental health costs us money as a society is factual, but this is not a useful strategy in reducing stigma. That said, there are a number of strategies used in the effort of reducing mental health stigma that do work. Within the advocacy community itself, I feel many, if not most, are spot on or on the right track. But doing a high-level look at some of the strategies used, it's time to rethink how we're going to slow the impact of mental health stigma.
Laura A. Barton
Despite my best efforts and all that I do, I sometimes catch myself thinking stigmatizing thoughts related to mental health and people with mental illness. I'm sure others do too, especially those who may be new to the mental health sphere. There are steps we can take to manage those stigmatizing thoughts to turn them around and lessen their frequency.
Laura A. Barton
People underestimate how powerful compassion is for getting through tough times. Sure, facing hard realities is a necessary part of recovery and tough love can be beneficial. But, ultimately, I believe it's the power of compassion that'll help us through the hardest moments and that it's the most beneficial to those with mental illness and their loved ones.