Normalizing Mental Health Dialogue With Family

As people across the country contend with mental health disorders, they may face stigmatization by society as a whole. Reducing the stigma around mental health is essential for everyone’s well-being.


Photo by Becca Tapert on Unsplash


Approximately two out of ten adults in the United States experience a mental health disorder, almost 53 million people. 5.6 people, or one in twenty, struggle with more serious mental illness. These high numbers don’t include how many youths are affected by a mental health disorder.


Stigma Around Mental Health


People often have inaccurate ideas about mental health, which then leads them to perceive people with this condition in a negative light.

Mental health stigmas can arise from myths society has created around a condition and kept alive from portrayals of the mentally ill on TV, in the movies, in newspapers, etc.


What Are the Effects of Mental Health Stigma?


Stigmatizing people with mental health disorders creates an unhealthy society. Extensive research proves that stigma can pose a barrier to seeking treatment for mental illness or substance use disorders and adds to negative health consequences.


Some of the more specific effects of mental health stigma include:


• Fewer people with mental health concerns will seek help. In fact, less than half of adults in the U.S. with a mental health disorder receive treatment. They fear being viewed negatively.


• The risk of suicide may increase when people with mental health disorders are stigmatized and don’t get treatment.


• People with mental health conditions are isolated, leading to more harm.


• People may have undue fear or anxiety about mental health conditions.

These are just a few of the consequences of perpetuating mental health stigma.


Ways To Reduce the Stigma of Mental Illness


Reducing the stigma around mental illness is critical for a healthier environment and greater well-being for those affected. This can be accomplished by everyone working together and taking the necessary steps.


Educate Yourself and Your Family


Education is the first step to overcoming mental health stigmatization. Learning about various mental health conditions and the people who have one can help dispel the myths.

You can become educated by reading information online or checking out brochures and documents on the topic. However, be sure you read accurate information from medical and mental health professionals, such as the CDC and National Institute on Mental Health.


Normalize Conversations About Mental Health


Talking about mental health with a family member is never easy when you are not used to doing it. With time, the process becomes less challenging. Some people avoid the topic because they are uncomfortable, awkward, or fearful of saying the wrong thing. These attitudes contribute to people potentially withdrawing from one another.


Whether or not you have someone in your family with mental illness, it’s vital to have a dialogue about this topic. The more that people normalize conversations centering on mental health, the less stigma there will be.


Use the Appropriate Language When Discussing Mental Health


The National Institutes of Health (NIH) states that when people use the correct terminology and language for mental health, it can reduce the stigma.

Avoid using derogatory words when referring to a mental health condition or a person with mental illness. Discuss mental health issues like any other medical condition.


Professionals categorize substance use disorder as a mental health disorder. So, it’s vital to use care in referring to someone with this condition. Instead of saying someone is an addict, you can refer to the specific disorder, such as saying the person has an opioid use disorder. Instead of saying someone is an alcoholic, you would say the person has alcohol use disorder.


Talking Openly and Candidly


Whether you or someone you love has a mental health disorder, talk candidly about it with family members and others. Don’t attempt to make it a secret or act like you want to hide it. Being secretive about it gives those around you (and yourself) the impression that it is something to be ashamed about, and shame only increases the stigma. Getting it out in the open reduces feelings of shame and creates a path for greater well-being.


Make a Difference

You can make a difference in how people view mental health. Take steps to normalize mental health conversations with those in your family, and ensure everyone feels safe discussing their issues.