NAMI: Stigmatizing Media Portrayals: What Can We Do?

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By Emma Frankham

The media often reports on individuals with mental illness. However, little is known about how accurately the media portrays these individuals. Are journalists getting mental illness “right?” It seems the answer is no. I analyzed news reports about individuals with mental illness who were killed by police during 2015 and 2016 and found that these individuals were often stigmatized because of their mental illness. In 301 online news reports, I found 231 examples of stigmatizing language.

This stigmatization took a variety of forms. At times, journalists used the stigmatizing language. Other times, stigmatizing language was present in quotes from family members, community members or police. Here are some examples:

  • Using mental illness as the defining characteristic of an individual: “paranoid schizophrenic,” “alcoholic” or “drug addict.”
  • Describing people with mental illness as helpless with little chance of recovery.
  • Using derogatory language: “crazy,” “insane,” “mental,” “crazed,” “deranged,” “nut.”
  • Implying that suicide is caused by a single event—such as having a relationship problem or losing a job—not by mental illness.
  • Portraying violence as the norm for people with mental illness. (However, research has indicated that on average individuals with mental illness are not violent and that individuals with mental illness are more likely be victims of violence.)
  • Describing individuals with mental illness as “not normal” and “not mentally there.” This implies that there is a fundamental difference between individuals without mental illness (“normal”) and individuals with mental illness (“not normal”).

What Can We Do?
How journalists report on mental illness is crucial, because incorrect reporting can easily reinforce stereotypes and stigma in society. Research has indicated that people who are exposed to stigmatizing language are less accepting and supportive of people with mental illness. Research has also showed that stigmatizing mental illness can increase the likelihood that individuals experiencing symptoms will delay or avoid treatment.

If you notice derogatory and stigmatizing language in the media, contact the news station or journalist to let them know. Highlight the language you felt was stigmatizing and explain why it’s important they not use this type of language. Then suggest other language they can use instead. In doing this, you are helping to stop the spread of stigma on a large stage.

You can also help on a smaller stage, in your daily life, by becoming more aware of how you speak about mental illness and encouraging others to do the same. For example, if a person uses the phrase “a mentally ill person” you could instead use the phrase “a person with mental illness” to reflect that mental illness is not the defining characteristic of that person.

You could also pose questions to encourage anyone who uses stigmatizing language to reflect on the language that they use. For example, “What did you mean when you said ‘psychotic’?” or “Can you explain what you meant by saying ‘She’s so bipolar’?”

If you feel comfortable being more direct, you could suggest more appropriate ways of talking about mental illness. For example, if someone uses the term “nuts” to describe a person with mental illness, you could explain why that word is derogatory and instead suggest they say, “a person with mental illness.”

Stigmatizing language takes a variety of forms in our lives. Unfortunately, journalists often don’t get it right when they need to the most. Whether it’s describing a person with mental illness as “crazy” or portraying violence as the norm for people with mental illness, this is not the message that should be sent to the public. These individuals deserve better.

https://namiswwa.org/stigmatizing-media-portrayals-can/

Safe Space Personal Story: Khali Raymond

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Living with Asperger's is not an easy feat. It never is. Imagine yourself in a room full of people. All of those people are laughing and mingling. Meanwhile, you aren’t. You’re sitting there in the corner all alone, watching everyone make nice with each other. Nobody even acknowledges that you’re there. You just sit there, crushed from the inside. You have trouble expressing yourself because you don’t know how to. Your fear of being rejected eats you up. Your fear or feeling inadequate to others eats you up. As you’re living with this disorder, those whom you’re around can’t understand your pain. You’re constantly feeling glum and angry. You feel as if this condition drags you into an abyss, an abyss that leads you to a point of no return.

I have this feeling. Growing up, I could never fit in with others. As a kid, I couldn’t look an adult in the eye. I never had the capacity to. There was just something about looking at another person that made me feel very uncomfortable. In social situations, my heart would pound very fast. I would tend to get nervous. I would always be the one that got left out because I couldn’t relate to the other children. Being bullied didn’t help curb my condition, it only worsened it. Every day, I would walk around and get laughed at. I would be humiliated every day. I would be made fun of because of the way I talked, walked, and looked. Imagine trying to answer a question in class and the kids would mock you. Every word you would say, they’d make this expression, trying to take the words from out of your mouth.

As I was around my family, they couldn’t relate to my condition either. I constantly sent them cries for help and they just rejected me. Nobody listened. This only made me feel even more depressed. The bullying in school got so bad that I nearly tried to kill myself at the age of eleven. I was going to leap from out of my bedroom window, but my mom stopped me in the process. I would use writing as my means to communicate. I loved to write. Whenever I was in class, I would be the first person to get up and share what I’ve written with the class. I impressed my teachers with my impeccable writing abilities. My creativity was amplified. There was nothing limiting it.

But, that didn’t mean my issues with my low self-esteem and my inability to become proactive in social situations waned. The kids would call me all sorts of demeaning names, such as retarded, stupid, and many more. I lost my father when I was just a year old, and his loss alone has had a grave impact on how I grew up. As a black man, growing up without a father—that’s not easy.

My father was a very outgoing guy. Everyone loved him. You would never be able to tell if he was sad. He was so resilient. Everyone tells me I look like him so much, but I’m his complete opposite. I’m not as outgoing as he was. I’m reclusive and shy. I don’t open up too much. These issues with bullying and my bout with Asperger’s did not cease. At the age of fourteen, I was booked into a mental hospital. They had me on medications for a while. I ceased taking them in 2013. None of that helped.

Once I got to high school, I began to give up hope. I felt like there was no haven for a guy like me. I carried all this baggage. I bared all these wounds. Nobody could understand what I had to go through. But, I didn’t stop writing. I let my talent weather the storm. I let the arts influence me. Writing was my only escape. It was the only place I could go and not be judged or harassed. Little did I know—this escape pushed me to write my first book at the age of fifteen. On October 26th 2014, I published The Ballad of Sidney Hill. That book marked my coming of age and how much I’ve matured.

That was living proof that I wasn’t going to let a mental disorder define me. They told me that I wouldn’t be able to function once I got to high school. All these specialists who remained doubtful of my growth, because of my condition—I proved them wrong. Fast forward to now, I have written forty books. I am now attending Berkeley College in Newark, New Jersey. I have a message for you all. Never let your circumstances define who you are. You can be anything!

World Mental Health Day- October 10th 2017

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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.

This years theme is "Mental health in the workplace". 

Less than a third of Americans are happy with their work. Nearly 20% are unhappy with their current job.  An unhappy environment at work is bad for a business and bad for employees.
Studies have shown being unhappy with or unfulfilled by one's work can take a toll on our health and relationships. An unhealthy workplace can cause weight gain and other health issues. Stress from work can also impact mental health.

Work is good for mental health but a negative working environment can lead to physical and mental health problems. There are many risk factors for mental health that may be present in the working environment. For some insight, you can compare the top 5 reasons for happy employees and the top 5 reasons employees leave a job below.

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In 2015, Mental Health America (MHA) embarked on a two-year research project on workplace mental health with the Work Health Survey. MHA analyzed over 17,000 employee surveys across 19 industries in the United States and in 2017 published the first-ever Workplace Wellness Report: Mind the Workplace. This report gives an amazing amount of information about workplace wellness and also inexpensive solutions to help any place of business, Check it out HERE!

 

November 2nd: Paint Night for Columbia River Mental Health Foundation

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Thursday, November 2 at 6:30 PM - 9 PM
Heathen Brewing Feral Public House
1109 Washington St, Vancouver

What could be a better mental health break than meeting friends over drinks and getting crafty?

Join us at Heathen Brewing on Thursday at 6:30 to mingle and find your spot! Paint Nite officially begins at 7pm and it won't be as much fun without you and your friends!

Please share this page and get your tickets soon!