Building Our Awareness, Ending the Stigma
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s “National Suicide Prevention Week” theme for 2018 is the Power of Connection. As they state in their website (https://afsp.org/campaigns/national-suicide-prevention-week-2018/): “Although there is no single cause of suicide, one of the risks for suicide is social isolation, and there’s scientific evidence for reducing suicide risk by making sure we connect with one another.”
One key way to build connection is to both lessen the stigma of mental illness, as well as build
awareness of what it means to live with mental illness.
Here are my TOP 5 ways that we can help lessen the stigma of depression and mental illness:
1. Understand: One thing I’ve seen is that the more understanding there is about mental
illness, the more people realize that we all struggle with it in varying degrees.
Anxiety and depression become less scary, and more of a “oh, I can relate to that
feeling.” When anxiety and depression become less scary, we are able to walk alongside others better rather than keeping them, and anything difficult, at arm’s length.
2. Notice: It’s become easier and easier in our society to exist in our own little screened
bubble. Learn to build your observation muscles. Notice if there’s a change in your
friend or family member. Build your awareness of how people around you are doing.
3. Share: If you struggle with anxiety or depression, share it. I have had countless
teenagers tell me how much it meant to them when their teachers would share about
their experience with anxiety. This builds connection. These students know that
their teachers understand them, and they feel safer to share their struggles with trusted adults.
It’s important for teens to have trusted adults other than their parents in their lives, open
your conversations and homes to your children’s friends.
4. Vulnerability: Sometimes we’re afraid that if we share about something difficult, it’ll
infringe upon someone else’s life or experience. Or, we're afraid they’ll start experiencing things
they wouldn’t have if we didn’t open up. Except, the exact opposite is true. The reality is that
we all have hidden battles and wounds, and the courage to open up helps others to
build those courageous muscles as well.
5. Engage: Join families and people who have been affected by suicide. Walk with them
in their grief and desire to remember their loved one in a meaningful way. Many of them
have joined up with organizations like AFSP or founded their own suicide awareness
and prevention organizations (For example, well-known Pastor Rick Warren’s wife, Kay
Warren, founded Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention after their son’s death. http://
actionallianceforsuicideprevention.org/users/kwarren). Engage with these organizations
and help spread the word anywhere you can.
Written by: Jenny Wang, MABC, LPC-S