Graphic image of a brain with the words World Mental Health Day written on it.
“World Mental Health Day is observed on 10 October every year, with the overall objective of raising awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilizing efforts in support of mental health” ("World Mental Health Day," 2020).
When we discuss mental health, we are specifically focusing on psychological, social, and emotional well-being. For every stage of life, maintaining good mental health is important for healthy functioning ("What is mental health?," 2020). Good mental health is not only the absence of mental illness - it is also about a proactive focus on taking care of your entire self to promote holistic wellness. Information is readily available to help promote physical wellness, e.g. exercise daily, eat well, get adequate sleep, etc., but not as much information is offered about mental wellness. Mental health has always been stigmatized, misunderstood, and marginalized around the world because many see our physical and mental well-being as being separate; however, it is not.
Why is Mental Wellness important? Globally, 10% of disease is attributed to psychiatric disorders, according to the American Psychiatric Association (2020). Yet, only 1% of global health workers are mental health professionals. Close to 50% of countries around the world do not have more than one psychiatrist per 100,000 people ("Global mental health," 2020). Clearly, mental health has taken a backseat in terms of wellness.
Stigma about mental health and mental illness is alive and well and is a significant barrier to reducing mental health struggles worldwide (Wainberg et al., 2017). People all around the world have strong negative beliefs about people who express mental health concerns, perpetuating this discrimination and stigma. Where do we see this? We see this in our social media, everyday stereotypes in our society, as well as our popular culture. One example of this: A local community is giving “Asylum in the Dark” tours in October at a shuttered mental health hospital. The implication in the media is that it is meant to be a “scary” experience, perpetuating stereotypes and stigma around mental illness.
Take Action The World Health Organization has a Mental Health Plan. The plan focuses on how to reverse negative trends -- the neglect of mental health services, human rights abuses, and discrimination against people with mental illness or mental health struggles. Their objectives include integrating mental health services in community-based settings, improving governance and prevention strategies, and strengthening research (“Mental health action plan 2013-2020,” 2013). You can also have an effect on the world.
How can you create change in the world? One step at a time. Start within your own circle of influence and work to reduce the stigma of mental health and mental illness.
Educate yourself on mental health and share that knowledge with others.
Understand and promote the idea that mental and physical health are equal. Mental illness is a disease and deserves the same treatment as physical illness.
Understand that most people who express negative attitudes about mental health do so because of a lack of facts -- they are just parroting stereotypes.
Choose your words wisely. Do not use mental health conditions as adjectives. Do not call people “mental” or “crazy.” Do not make jokes about people being “on meds.”
Talk openly about mental health and mental illness as if there is nothing to be embarrassed about. Hint: there is nothing to be embarrassed about!
Be a good ally and do not let others be marginalized, dismissed, or minimized due to mental health concerns.
Look for stereotypical depictions of mental health and mental illness in the media -- and call it out. Point it out, and let people know that it is not acceptable ("Approaches to reducing stigma - Ending discrimination against people with mental and substance use disorders - NCBI bookshelf," 2016; Greenstein, 2017; Mental health: Overcoming the stigma of mental illness, 2017).
Approaches to reducing stigma - Ending discrimination against people with mental and substance use disorders - NCBI bookshelf. Pew Research Center. (2016, August 3). National Center for Biotechnology Information. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK384914/
Wainberg, M. L., Scorza, P., Shultz, J. M., Helpman, L., Mootz, J. J., Johnson, K. A., Neria, Y., Bradford, J. E., Oquendo, M. A., & Arbuckle, M. R. (2017). Challenges and Opportunities in Global Mental Health: a Research-to-Practice Perspective. Current psychiatry reports, 19(5), 28.https://doi.org/10.1007/s11920-017-0780-z
Michelle Reiter-Miller is the Social Science Department Chair and an Associate Professor at Baker College. She started teaching psychology at the Auburn Hills campus in 1996. As a practicing psychotherapist, she is a staunch advocate for reducing the stigma of mental illness. Reiter-Miller has been a member of the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Council at Baker College since 2017.