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Mental Health Awareness Week: “Normalizing” Stigma

Reading Time: 3 Minutes

Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW) takes place annually during the first week of October to raise awareness about mental illness, fight discrimination and provide support through Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW). This year’s MIAW is centered around the theme “What I Wish I Had Known,” where the focus will highlight the power of lived experiences concerning stigma and treatment.

1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness each year

1 in 20 U.S. adults experience serious mental illness each year

1 in 6 U.S. youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year

Defining Stigma

Stigma is when someone negatively views you because you have a distinguishing characteristic or personal trait that’s thought to be, or is, a disadvantage (a negative stereotype). Stigma is not just about labeling someone with a bad word or using inappropriate terms, but it also includes how we speak to others, and some of the “hows” include the following:

  • “If he could just get out of bed in the morning and take a shower, his day would go better.”
  • “He’s just not trying hard enough.”
  • “It’s just a mood swing.”

“Why Can’t You Just Be Normal For A Change?”

This is often a phrase many individuals living with a mental health disorder experience. The inability to get out of bed some days, intrusive racing thoughts, uncontrollable flooding of emotions, or acting on impulsive thoughts often lead others to ask, “why can’t you just be normal”?

But what does normal even mean, and who defines this term? Normal is often characterized by someone wanting another individual to fit into their small box to ease their discomfort. Asking someone to be “more normal” is a stigmatizing attitude and behavior that often goes unrecognized. Teachers, parents, friends, family members, and loved ones are often guilty of asking an individual to be more normal. This notion often illustrates that this may very well be a subconscious undertone that may not be used to cause harm intentionally. However, regardless of the intention, it is still a very stigmatizing expression.

Unfortunately, stigma is often directly related to mental health and substance use disorders. It can be a considerable barrier for individuals to discuss their symptoms and experiences and seek treatment. This stigma often results in many individuals pushing their feelings under the rug, so to speak, or using harmful coping mechanisms to deal with their symptoms, potentially worsening their disorder. We, as a society, must learn to educate ourselves about mental health disorders and how they relate to stigma to break down this connotation of “being more normal.”

Achieving A State Of “Healthy”

Other people’s definitions of normal are socially constructed perceptions that only perpetuate stigma around mental health issues, making it harder for people to recover. Instead of trying to fit people into a box to be normal, we should work on using terms like healthy.

The concept of achieving a state of healthy living provides two distinct advantages: It is self-defined and allows for specific and achievable goals. In addition, healthy considers the reality of the situation (no matter how uncomfortable) and enables individuals to tailor their care to their needs.

Achieving a healthy state is dictated by choices and goals, no one else. It is an acute awareness of one’s mental and physical thresholds — and deep respect for them. Healthy is not about how an individual reacts to another person, but rather how the individual acknowledges themselves as someone who can achieve more than normal.

Changing Our Mindset To Be More Inclusive

It’s worth checking to see if our subconscious comments are supporting the false notion that:

  • Solutions to mental health problems are straightforward and obvious.
  • We know better than people who live with mental health conditions.
  • A straightforward step or approach will solve everything.
  • The person we’re talking about is making a choice — or deliberately making things harder than they have to be.

Noticing the words, we choose and the thoughts that might hide behind our choices — can help us become better champions for ourselves and others.

Seeking Mental Health Treatment At AKUA Mind & Body

AKUA Mind and Body is a full-service treatment center that provides residential treatment, partial hospitalization, intensive outpatient treatment, outpatient treatment, and virtual treatment to both men and women struggling with a substance use disorder, a mental health disorder, or both (co-occurring disorder). AKUA Mind and Body provides compassionate, evidence-based treatment to all individuals and families. We combine evidence-based medications and psychotherapy approaches with holistic therapies such as meditation, yoga, and equine therapy, as we believe in treating the mind, body, and spirit.

Our clinical staff and ancillary treatment teams take great pride in the care that we provide to our clients and their families. From intake to discharge, we believe in treating the client as an individual and not just treating the disorder. As a result, we provide individualized treatment plans for every client. We offer our treatment services across many locations in California, including Orange County, Newport Beach, San Diego, and Sacramento.

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