Generally, when asking a person how their health is they will reply to you saying that they are healthy, they don’t feel sick, and that their doctor might have given them a clean bill of health. However, one main health concern that we Americans don’t talk about is our mental health. In our society talking about mental health, along with many other things, is seen as a taboo. In homes, schools, or at the workplace it’s a topic that is rarely brought up and quickly dismissed if so.
Ironically statistics show that one in every four people experience mental health issues. Despite these large numbers, more than 40 percent of countries worldwide have no mental health policy. What’s even more staggering is how the lack of conversation affects high school students. In 2014 it was recorded that 2.8 million youth age 12-17 had at least one major depressive episode. Not only that, but it has been shown that suicide is third leading cause of the death of youth ages 10-24. It is these astonishing and staggering statistics that show that we Americans need to start up a dialog about mental health in our country.
The first step to take is getting rid of the stigma and discrimination that surrounds mental health. Stigma and discrimination are the two biggest roadblocks that stand in the way of public dialog, and despite it being said easier than it is done, it is not impossible. First, we need to make sure that we have an open and judgment-free communication. This is valuable because many people still feel that it is shameful to have a mental illness, that it shows that they are weak. Many parents feel as if having a child with a mental illness shows that they were not good parents and that they didn’t properly raise their child. Of course all of these things aren’t true, however, it is this self-inflicted stigma that can cause a barrier in an open dialog with others.
Another step that can be taken is making sure that we avoid correlations between criminality and mental illness. This is a reoccurring issue with many social problems that we face. Just because an African-American robs a bank doesn’t mean that mean that all African-Americans are going to go around robbing banks. The same principle applies to mental illness, Just because a person with a specific mental illness commits a crime doesn’t mean that all of those with that certain illness are going to go and commit the same crime, or any crime in general. Even if a person with a certain illness commits a crime, it could be an isolated case and we should not judge a whole group of people based on the actions of one.
Lastly, another step we could take is avoiding ableist words that specifically correlate with mental health. Much like the use of other ableist terms, ones that deal with mental health can further the stigma surrounding the issue. This goes for words such as: “mental,” “schizo,” “crazy,” “loonie,” or “nutter.” By using these words they can be engraved into our brains from a very young age. So, when we are older and might be facing a mental health problem we could be hesitant because we fear being ostracized by our peers. By not using these words and those that have negative connotations we can make others feel comfortable about discussing their health without fearing retribution.
By opening a public discussion and creating a safe space for those around us, we can truly better ourselves as people and as a society. We can build empathy and show kindness and compassion to the world, which is what we all really need.
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