Stigma and discrimination can have a detrimental impact on individuals with mental illness, making it harder for them to seek help and recover. Stigma occurs when someone negatively labels a person based on their mental illness, rather than seeing them as an individual. This leads to feelings of shame, isolation, and reluctance to ask for support or treatment. The harmful effects of stigma include limited employment and social opportunities, bullying, and self-doubt.
It is crucial to address and challenge the stigma associated with mental illness. Here are some ways to combat stigma:
Seek the help you need – Don’t let the fear of being labelled with a mental illness prevent you from seeking treatment. Remember that mental illness is not a sign of weakness and reaching out for support is a brave step towards recovery.
Connect with trusted individuals such as family, friends, coaches, or religious leaders who can provide the support you need. Joining a mental health support group, either online or in person, can also help combat feelings of isolation.
Refuse the Negative
Don’t internalise negative beliefs – Refuse to believe negative stereotypes and misconceptions about mental illness. Surround yourself with understanding and knowledgeable individuals who can support you on your journey.
Use Words to Your Advantage
Embrace person-first language – Avoid defining yourself solely by your illness. Instead, use language that emphasises your individuality, such as saying “I have schizophrenia” rather than “I am schizophrenic.” Recognise the power of language in shaping perceptions.
Do not Personalise
Understand that it’s not personal – Remember that judgments and misunderstandings often stem from a lack of knowledge. Other people’s opinions do not define your worth or character.
In Nigeria, it is crucial to understand that discrimination based on mental illness is illegal and goes against human rights. Laws and organisations exist to protect individuals with mental illness, such as National Mental Health Policy and Mental Health Act. Additionally, international bodies like the United Nations and the World Health Organisation support the rights of individuals with mental illness.
Creating a mentally healthy community in Nigeria requires the participation of every individual. It is important to educate ourselves and others about mental illness, challenge stereotypes prevalent in our society, and treat all individuals with respect and dignity. By sharing personal experiences and dispelling myths, we can contribute to breaking the stigma surrounding mental illness and fostering open conversations.
In our society, it is crucial to emphasise that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of and should never be hidden away. We must strive to create an inclusive environment that supports individuals with mental illness, ensuring they have access to necessary support and treatment. Together, we can work towards building a society that embraces mental health and provides equal opportunities for everyone