President's Perspective Blog

Mike's Message Takeover: Addressing the STIGMA Associated with Mental Illness

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Mental Health Matters

Mental illness affects so many of us, especially in the nonprofit fundraising and philanthropic space, whether it be through our own experiences, those of our loved ones or colleagues, or even in the communities we serve. It’s critically important to take the time to reflect on mental illness and understand its effect on all of us.

To fully address the topic of mental illness today you must talk about the stigma associated with it. Stigma has a profound impact on the lives of so many and their decisions about taking care of their mental health. 

Stigma is defined as a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.

The consequences of stigma can be serious and devastating, including reducing the chances that a person with mental illness will receive appropriate and adequate care at all. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), stigma drives silence, and leaves most people to struggle with their mental health symptoms for 8-10 years before seeking help.

The stigma associated with mental illness can be divided into two types: (1) Social Stigma, which involves the prejudiced attitudes others have around mental illness; and (2) Self-Perceived Stigma, which involves an internalized stigma the person with the mental illness suffers from.

One of the main reasons many who suffer from mental health challenges remain quiet concerns the number of falsehoods and myths surrounding mental illness. Although there are several out there, the following are five of the biggest myths associated with mental illness:

  • Myth #1: Mental illness is caused by weakness.
  • Myth #2: Mental illness is an excuse for laziness.
  • Myth #3: People who suffer can feel better whenever they want.
  • Myth #4: People choose to be mentally ill.
  • Myth #5: Mental illness is all in someone’s head.

These myths have added to the powerful stigma now attributed to mental illness, while at the same time have criticized and diminished those suffering. These myths must be debunked whenever possible so that the correct education and awareness can support a person’s path to wellness and recovery.

Mental illness is a treatable disease. For some, diagnosed treatment has a high rate of success; depression being the most treatable. Yet, stigma alone keeps people from getting help and suffering in silence for years—that is why these myths are so dangerous. 

The goal for nonprofit leaders should be to promote the acceptance and inclusion of those dealing with mental health issues by improving support systems, spreading awareness, and creating a safe environment for discussion to take place.

Normalizing conversations and sharing about mental health, grief and loss, and recovery is effective in reducing and ending the stigma felt by so many. One of the best ways to break down stigma is by listening to and reading stories of lived experience (those living with mental illness, in recovery, or a caregiver). 

Stories have the ability to impact us on a profound level, especially when we feel a strong connection to the storyteller. Stories create a common ground that allows people to communicate and overcome our differences, so we can better understand ourselves and each other. When we are vulnerable and share our experiences, it helps create transparency and acceptance, which can take the fear out of disclosing a mental health challenge.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Please take the time to share mental health resources, observe mental health specific calendar days, and share your story when you are ready. I would like to dedicate this post to all the mental health advocates out there. Your efforts, work ethic, and kindness are seldom recognized but, to so many who suffer or are in recovery, you are heroes!

I would also like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to all the mental health professionals, care givers, and advocates out there who support and champion the millions of people suffering from mental illness every day. Your VOICE changes the discussion around mental health and addiction. Your EFFORTS help eliminate the stigma associated with mental illness and recovery, and Your ACTIONS save lives every day.

For more mental health awareness resources, check out AFP's AFP Supports webpage

Ian AdairIan Adair is the Director of Leadership Development and Credentialing at the Association of Fundraising Professionals global office. He is a mental health advocate and speaker concerning mental health awareness and mental health in the workplace. Ian is the author of: Stronger Than Stigma, A Call To Action: Stories of Grief, Loss, and Inspiration!

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11 Dec 2023 President's Perspective Blog
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