How should we talk about mental health?

This is a summary of the main points made in an article on TED – see the full article by Thu-Huong Ha here. I want to put this here because it is Mental Health Awareness Week from 12-18 May 2014.

Thu-Huong Ha says:

Mental health suffers from a major image problem. One in every four people experiences mental health issues — yet more than 40 percent of countries worldwide have no mental health policy. Across the board it seems like we have no idea how to talk about it respectfully and responsibly.

Stigma and discrimination are the two biggest obstacles to a productive public dialogue about mental health; indeed, the problem seems to be largely one of communication. So we asked seven mental health experts: How should we talk about mental health? How can informed and sensitive people do it right – and how can the media do it responsibly?

These are the main points raised:

End the stigma

Mental illness has a stigma – people who are mentally ill can feel this as a shameful weakness. We need to banish this stigma and get talking.

Avoid correlations between criminality and mental illness

People can get very judgemental about people with mental illness, asuming because a mentally ill person commits a crime that the illness must be the cause. This attitude reflects in the media. There is no link.

But do correlate more between mental illness and suicide

There is a link between serious mental illness and suicide – 90% of suicides are related to mental illness. We need to recognise that in most cases suicide is a consequence of illness.

Avoid words like “crazy” or “psycho”

Does this need explaining? Actually, its not the words, its the underlying attitude.

If you feel comfortable talking about your own experience with mental health, by all means, do so

If you have had problems of your own, talking about it helps others. It normalises their experience and makes it less lonely. It helps others talk about it too.

Don’t define a person by his/her mental illnesses

We don’t define people by their other illnesses – well not often – so why this one? People are people first. One problem doesn’t mean a person is that problem.

Separate the person from the problem

A person has a problem, rather than is it. I have hayfever right now, but I am not hayfeveric. Someone who has schizophrenia is not schizophrenic.

Sometimes the problem isn’t that we’re using the wrong words, but that we’re not talking at all

All of us can help by being more comfortable talking about feelings – any feelings, but including darker ones.

Recognize the amazing contributions of people with mental health differences

There are so many creatives who have mental health differences – notice and recognise this.

Humour helps

Laughter is the best medicine, but more than that, it enables difficult conversations.

Original Article

Now see the full article by Thu-Huong Ha here.