Mental Health Awareness Month – What is stigma?

Every year, millions of people around the world honour the whole month of May as Mental Health Awareness Month. During this time, people help to fight stigma against mental illnesses, educate the public, and advocate for changes revolving around mental health.

Mental Health awareness is important for everyone but specifically for individuals who are caring and supporting loved ones with a disability because it helps to understand stigmatisation and the effects that stigma can have on individuals. It helps individuals become more aware of their well-being as well as those around them, and aids in personal growth. When a community is more comfortable talking about mental health it encourages others to feel more comfortable and begins to reduce mental health stigma.

Mental Health stigma is when someone sees you in a negative way because of your mental health challenges. Social stigma can make mental health problems worse and stop a person from getting the help they need. Stigma affects how other people and the community see people with mental illness and in turn how people with mental illness feel about themselves. It can also lead to people with mental illness being discriminated against and bullied, feeling isolated and excluded, experiencing low self-esteem, and even having suicidal thoughts.

People with mental illness may feel rejected by the people they know, their family and friends, employers or the community. It can make someone try to hide their illness, or not seek the help they need. Stigma can affect someone’s health and financial wellbeing.

Stigma can generate fear, misunderstanding and can prevent people from offering time, friendship or support to someone who is experiencing mental illness.

Mental Health during COVID19 is particularly important to promote mental health. Since the pandemic has everyone socially distancing and isolating from each other the overwhelming feelings of anxiety, depression is more present.

Being away from your loved ones can be really difficult when you have a close relationship with them. Making sure we check in on our family and friends can make a huge difference and help us build stronger connections. The main goal is to help ourselves and others cope with the stress we’re experiencing, which is vital to making our community stronger as a whole.

Although May is Mental Health Awareness Month, this is something that we should continue to discuss and promote beyond the month of May. As we move into June, think about focusing on ways you can continue to encourage conversations around Mental Health, how you can support yourself and your loved ones.

If you or your loved ones need support, reach out to somewhere that can help:

  • SANE Australia (people living with a mental illness) — call 1800 187 263.
  • Beyond Blue (anyone feeling depressed or anxious) — call 1300 22 4636 or chat online.
  • Black Dog Institute (people affected by mood disorders) — online help.
  • Lifeline (anyone having a personal crisis) — call 13 11 14 or chat online.
  • Suicide Call Back Service (anyone thinking about suicide) — call 1300 659 467.