The Bridgeway View

Editor Cory Storch, CEO

by Cory Storch

Mental Illness – Psychiatric Disorder – Emotional Disturbance. These are the modern terms that replaced the old words like Crazy – Psycho – or just plain Mental. The problem is that the old terms still come up in conversation or worse yet, in news headlines. These newer words still have stigma attached to them.

We need to look at the root causes of this dilemma. It’s about our belief systems. We can consciously change our words by using person first language. Example – referring to a person as “a person with bi-polar disorder” rather than as “a bi-polar” or “manic-depressive”. The idea is that a person is much more than the mental health condition they have. . But our beliefs are amazingly resistant to change. Humans are wired to hold onto beliefs. Here is what we can do about it:

  • Learn the facts
  • Use the facts to change your interactions with people who are stigmatized
  • Help others improve their beliefs and interactions by sharing the facts

We need to learn the facts about mental health conditions. Only then will the words we use, even the newest words like “consumer” or “person with lived experience” not hold back our family members, friends, co-workers and neighbors from their recovery.

Stigmatizing beliefs and language lead to discrimination – in the workplace, in social situations, in school settings. The discrimination against people who have a mental illness causes social isolation and lost educational and career opportunities. This is part of the reason so many people with a mental illness are living in poverty and spending time in hospitals, prisons, and jails.

The more we look at the effects of stigma, the more serious we realize this problem to be. Beyond our words, we must challenge our own beliefs. We all grew up with news headlines and movies that perpetrated myths about mental illnesses. How could these messages not influence our beliefs?

Even mental health professionals can perpetrate stigma. There is a widespread belief in the mental health field that the term “chronic” mental illness is acceptable and that lower expectations are okay for some people. Longitudinal  studies prove otherwise.1 Vermont Study, Courtney Harding. Similarly, I’ve seen professionals categorize people as low functioning and then treat them based on that label.

People do recover! Listening to recovery stories is one path to changing beliefs. There is a growing cadre of mental health workers with lived experience who have a lot to teach us. You can hear their stories through websites like Bridgeway’s YouTube Channel services

Here are more great links to recovery stories Glen Close built an anti-stigma initiative after her sister disclosed her mental illness  Demi Lovato shares her personal story about living with mental illness

If you are interested in starting a Stigma-Free Zone campaign in your town, please click:

Bridgeway spearheads the Stigma-Free movement in Union County, NJ

1. Harding, C.M., Brooks, G. W., Ashikaga, T., Strauss, J. S., Breier, A. (1987). The Vermont longitudinal study of persons with severe mental illness, II: Long-term outcome of subjects who retrospectively met DSM-III criteria for schizophrenia. The American Journal of Psychiatry. 144(6):727-35.

August 27th, 2017

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