Within schools everywhere there is an epidemic affecting children of all ages: the stigma around mental illness. This environment of shame began with the notion that people who had trouble controlling their thoughts or emotions were a danger to society and must be sent away to an insane asylum. And until around the 1960s the attitude surrounding mental disorders did not change. Stigma is defined as undesirable characteristics that sets you apart from the group and “when related to mental illness generates fear of the unknown, exclusion, and a set of false beliefs born from the lack of knowledge and understanding about mental disorders” (Santos, Jussara, et al). By creating this subgroup, there are many negative repercussions felt which include less help-seeking behavior and an overall lower self esteem. The exclusion faced by teens with mental illness can be seen in more practical ways such as loss of motivation, failure to create social relationships, and seclusion within the school setting. As a society, and particularly in educational settings, we must work to break down the barrier of stigma surrounding mental illness and fully embrace others.
Serval strategies have been proposed across the world on how to dismantle the stigma surrounding mental illness. Education, contact, and protest are the three categories that any strategy can essentially be sorted into.
• EDUCATION → information about mental illnesses and mentally diseased people
• CONTACT → through direct interaction with individuals suffering from mental illness
• PROTEST → attempting to suppress stigmatizing attitudes, mainly in the media
Although protest has proven to enact the repression effect where the stigmatizing attitudes are not removed completely but rather hidden away till another moment in time (Santos, Jussara, et al). Contact has proven to be the most effective when paired along with education, creating the most long term effects and an overall more knowledgeable person. With this approach of education along with contact the gap between “us” and “them” can be closed even more!
The best way to reduce stigma is to start conversations and that’s exactly what I will be doing here as well as at my home school. With many experiments concluding that education with a “contact” video following was the most effective I decided to make the method my intended response plan! This two part engagement will count on viewers like you to break down the stigma through actively educating yourself along with a community discussion regarding the topics. First you will be able to choose from serval different videos that capture the “contact” nature of breaking down stigma although you cannot be directly with this person. Then you can venture over to the padlet open discussion where you can either tell about your own “contact” story, refer to the sentiments mentioned in the video, or give your take on the questions presented.
STEP ONE: View as many of the contact videos as you wish that provide stories of people suffering from varying mental illnesses. Feel free to suggest your own video if someone’s mental health story really stands out to you!
• There’s no shame in taking care of your mental health
• Buck’s Story
• The Voices in my Head
• A tale of mental illness – from the inside
• A Glimpse into Mental Health: Aurelia’s Story
STEP TWO: Engage in the padlet discussion where you can openly carry on the conversation by choosing from the options!
Hopefully with this discussion people can connect on a personal level across communities breaking down the barriers of inclusion and distance. And within your own community you will hopefully be not only more educated but ultimately more aware of others around and how they may be feeling. Conversations that start here can surely be carried on into your own home schools where progress can always be made. For my own local response I have created a padlet discussion for home school where students can anonymously (if they wish) ask for advice regarding mental health but also school in general. And although there is not such an emphasis on the education factor, people feel like they are accepted and can speak in an open environment where everyone wants to help!
I hope you enjoyed learning about how you can actively work to break down stigma in your own communities while educating yourself! Please leave any questions, comments, improvements, advice, etc in the comments as I would love to hear your feedback. And finally click here to access my works cited for this catalyst conference project.