Election Day. Veteran’s Day. Thanksgiving Day. Each one has its own meaning and significance for every one of us.
In a similar way, people who deal with mental illness (health) issues are being affected more and uniquely by different days. Also, this occurs nearly every morning when they wake up, not just on the three days above. The words ‘stigma‘ and ‘discrimination‘ make their overall situations exceedingly difficult, especially during certain times of the year. Let’s focus on assisting them with ways to combat stigma and discrimination.
To move forward, we need to reflect back on definitions. Stigma is when one group of humans act or treat others in a different way because of the others’ specific characteristics. When someone is victimised unfairly because they have a mental illness, it is called discrimination. Unfortunately, stigma and discrimination are both much too prevalent in our societies and need to be removed entirely.
Before we can eradicate them, we must begin with reduction. Harm reduction 101, for those in the know. Of course, ideas and strategies need to be developed. Some of them have been tried, but many of us do not know they even exist. Try not to get labelled and get the help we need. This in itself is stigma, often called labelling, whether it is done to us or by us to others.
Want a hard one? Do not believe what they are saying. The old adage ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me’ is relevant to this discussion. Indeed, I say it is hard, but we can strive for self-awareness and to help ourselves and assist others. To fight stigma is to not degrade oneself or let someone else define it; therefore, it is utterly wrong.
Discrimination of people with mental health issues is not the answer. We are people who are valuable members of a city, a state, a nation, and the world. Many of us lead productive lives by working, getting a pay check, spending money on what we need to survive, and being responsible for others. Do something about this: write to Congress and the President, and hold and go to peaceful meetings and discuss equality; alert the media and spread the word that stigma and discrimination are still going on. When doing this exercise, I am emphasising to take care in what vocabulary is used.
Take the time to discuss sport, the weather, or the economy with any one of us because we are intelligent, too. However, due to discrimination, we are the ones with mental health issues and not given the same opportunities as the mainstream population. In addition, many of us remain either underemployed or unemployed while getting much less money to work. Plain and simple, this is discrimination. Never antagonise anyone and be as peaceful as possible.
My hope is that if we begin to use some of these ideas, we can exist with less fear and anxiety and maybe live together as one human race. As it is said and as it is written: ‘All men are created equal.’ Five tough words to live by, but it has to be accomplished for people everywhere to exist in harmony. As mentioned over and over again by Mr Spock in Star Trek: ‘Live long and prosper’. Also, I have written this in my previous articles on this topic and I will state it again here: both the terms ‘stigma’ and ‘discrimination’ must be removed from all dictionaries, eradicated from our collective vocabularies, and eliminated from our thought processes, once and for all.
Now we hark back to the first line of this piece. Citizens with a form of mental illness or cognitive or emotional impairment are often left out of political involvement. This smells like stigma but there are positive alternatives.
Weeks, if not months before Election Day, officials canvas our great nation to find individuals with mental health issues. Their goal is to educate, register, and encourage everyone including those with these issues to go through the election process. Ultimately, we are able to vote, which is a right we all have. For those in certain areas who cannot travel to voting places, they offer transportation on Election Day itself.
We turn our attention to reducing and combating stigma in veterans’ mental health. Many come back from service duty with a host of mental ailments, but most do not get the assistance that is available to them. This may disproportionately impact military individuals and the many returning veterans. Today there are more places to assist with their feelings of shame plus inadequacy to better encourage treatment. In large part, this can be attributed to stigma.
Throughout time, people have had many things to be thankful for and they try to set aside petty differences. However, stigma and discrimination often make this more difficult for some individuals with mental health issues to combat the idea of being indebted to anyone. Thanksgiving marks the period of time to remember the little things and to be grateful for what we actually have. Although many of us are struggling, we might be able to pick one or two. Whether it be having family or friends; adequate physical, mental health, or both; or just a place to lay our head; there is one item out there. We can win this battle.
Despite stigma and discrimination, we appreciate being alive. Try not to give in to temptation or greed, as they are the root of evil. Focus on what gives us pleasure and, if at all humanly possible, try to do more. Hey, everyone, I try to walk, go for a drive, or write almost every day! It helps me to feel better (yeah, physically and emotionally), increase my self-awareness and self-esteem, and break the stigma and discrimination in my head. If I can do it, everyone can do it! At least try one thing.
Howard Diamond is a certified peer specialist in New York.