Although the general public has become more educated about mental illness, there is still a lot of stigma surrounding it. Many people find themselves being blamed for causing their own illness by others or even blame themselves. Furthermore, much of the population still has the notion that mental illness is something the sufferer controls and can just “stop it” on their own.
The idea that mental illness is something that can be turned on and off if someone just tries hard enough is extremely harmful. Stigma against mental illness leads people to feel ashamed of their condition. It stops them from having an open dialogue about what they are going through and, in many cases, even stops people from seeking professional help that is vital to them.
Since May is Mental Health Awareness Month, now is a better time than ever to become active in the fight against stigma surrounding mental illness. There are many ways that you can become proactive about helping to advocate for the mental health community and educate the public. Here are 7 easy ways you can fight the stigma surrounding mental illness.
1. Have An Open Dialogue About Mental Health
Mental Health Awareness month is a great time to start a discussion about mental health. Talk to family and friends about what it is like to live with mental illness. Discussing the feelings surrounding the condition can help people understand that it is not something that is controllable by sheer willpower. Sharing what you are going through invites others to provide support and by talking about your mental illness, you also reduce any feelings of shame you feel towards your illness.
2. Educate Yourself And Others About Your Condition
Taking the time to learn about the different mental health conditions that you and others may be suffering from provides a better understanding of what is really going on. Mental illness is caused by physiological dysfunction in the brain. This means hormone imbalances and abnormal brain function.  Knowing the cause of your illness allows you to better educate other people. Taking the time to correct people’s misconceptions of mental illness will allow them to view it from a different perspective and put their stigmatizing thoughts to rest.
3. Avoid Stereotyping Mental Health Conditions
There are many harmful stereotypes surrounding mental health conditions. These stereotypes are often reinforced by inaccurate media portrayals that lead the general public to view mental illness from a very narrow viewpoint. They have a tendency to show exaggerated or even comical representations of mental health conditions. The media will typically show people with mental illness as violent, unpredictable, and causing their own illness in some cases. 
The media’s view on mental illness leads people to believe mental illness is something to be feared and ashamed of. The representations the media puts out only reflect a very small minority of people suffering from mental health conditions. Ways to help lessen this stigma include reaching out to broadcasting networks and letting them know how harmful these depictions really are. Most importantly, don’t internalize or promote these stereotypes, as that will only exacerbate the stigma of mental illness.
4. Emphasize That Mental Illness Is Just As Serious As Physical Illness
Understanding that mental illness is in fact a disease is very eye-opening for most people. Just as physical illness causes issues with the body, mental illness causes serious issues with the brain. When viewing mental illness as a disease of the brain, it suddenly becomes very apparent that it is a medical condition that requires medical and behavioral treatment.
If someone was suffering from a physical illness, no one would tell them “just ignore it and it will go away”. As a result, it is important to understand that people with mental illness need the attention of a professional just as someone with a physical illness would.
5. Show Understanding To People With Mental Illness
Show compassion and take the time to listen to people with mental illness. This shows that you are with them in the fight against stigma surrounding mental illness. Actively reach out to people and ask them how their mental health is. Sometimes just showing that you are willing to listen will make people feel safe enough to discuss their condition and help to alleviate any feelings of self stigmatization.
Social connection is essential when it comes to mental health, making an extra effort to reach out to the people you care about and form new connections with people who may be struggling can make a huge impact. In the end, you never know whose life you can change simply by reaching out and connecting with others.
6. Be Realistic About Treatment
While being active in the mental health community and showing support is a great way to help fight mental health stigma, it is important to remember that people with mental illness still require treatment. People still look at going to a psychiatrist as something that needs to be swept under the rug, but going to a mental health professional is as normal as going to your general practitioner. By recognizing that mental illness needs to be treated, it takes away some of the fear of being judged for going to therapy or taking medication.
7. Fight Your Self Stigma
The first place you should start in the fight against stigma surrounding mental illness is with yourself. Understanding yourself and your condition will get rid of any fear and shame you may be feeling. Educate yourself and talk about your mental illness. Knowing that even with mental illness you can live a full and meaningful life is a step in the right direction. Although it may not seem like much, any contribution to help end the stigma against mental illness makes a difference.