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Countering Stigma

There may be no more misunderstood or stigmatized topic in our culture than mental illness. Unfortunately, many of the misperceptions of mental illness, and much of the prejudice and stigma surrounding it, begin during school years. The best antidote for stigma is education.  Accurate information is the most powerful tool you can provide a student to counter the shame he/she may feel about having a mental illness, and to deal with the uninformed and negative ways others may characterize mental illness. 

Separate fact from fiction.
Conditions like depression are real illnesses caused by changes in brain chemistry. A person is not weak or abnormal because they have diabetes or asthma. The same holds true for mental illnesses – in fact, depression is more common than diabetes or asthma, and is highly treatable.

Provide perspective.
Depressive illnesses are serious, chronic conditions requiring ongoing care to prevent relapse. At the same time, having a depressive illness does not mean a person can’t lead a full and satisfying life. When thinking about illnesses like depression, here are some statements to share with your students

  • Depression is something a person has. It does not define the person.
  • A person is much more than his/her diagnosis.  Personality, talents, skills, and compassion are defining traits – not depression.
  • Mental illnesses are similar to other chronic conditions, such as diabetes or asthma. Just as a diabetic takes daily steps to monitor and control blood sugar levels, daily action is needed to monitor and control the symptoms of depression.

Learn from others.
Many people – including entertainers, athletes and other recognizable public figures – live remarkable lives while managing mental illness.  Their stories contain important lessons and inspiration for students.