Worldwide stigma takes 800,000 people by suicide every year. Stigma took away half of all adolescents’ joy and replaced it with self-injury. And 70 percent of that self-injury number, finds stigma encouraging them to attempt suicide at least once.
Where is the stigma? Sleeping on the city streets, homeless and psychotic not knowing which city they are in; African American woman shunned from family and friends for getting help for her post-partum depression; police force after an officer breaks down at the news of another suicide within the department, subsequently, he is seen as weak.
When you see the stigma in action, you may feel helpless, angry or dejected. Those are some strong emotions. Now let’s roll up our sleeves and do something about it!
The ever-increasing problems with stigma
Homeless and mental illness
Have you seen her? She is walking on Broadway with all she owns squished inside a dirty, wet backpack. Your eyes are diverted to the ground where you see she is wearing flip-flops during winter. You may see her talking to herself or yelling obscenities at no one. You may see her sitting on piles of newspapers rocking back and forth.
There are hundreds of thousands of homeless men and women in our cities. For instance, San Francisco mental health officials believe a third of the homeless population in that city is mentally ill and this number continues to climb. Woefully, these individuals suffer from some of the worst mental disorders like schizophrenia, post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar. Also, a dual diagnosis of some sort including a mental illness and a substance abuse.
Many urban areas struggle to help decrease their homeless population with mental illness. The sad thing is homeless people are often on a cycle. They go from the street, to ER, to shelters and then jail. It is rare that someone in this cycle ever gets the services they need to propel them into a better future – mentally and financially.
African Americans and mental illness
Problems regarding mental illness within the African-American community stem from the lack of information and misunderstanding about mental health. Their belief is “our strength does not come from medicine or meeting with a therapist but in the family, community and church.” They believe they do not need a doctor.
Here is a sampling of the stigma of a Black community. In an African American neighborhood, a depressed person is looked upon as someone with the “blues” or has something to “simply get over”. The sentiment is “that dark cloud hanging over his/her head is something that will go away within the hour. He/she is just fine.”
“In the midst of a depressive episode, I had a friend say to me: We are the descendants of those who survived the Middle Passage and slavery. Whatever you’re going through cannot be that bad.” Merdies Hayes, African-American author.
Police officers and mental illness
The stigma we see in police officers often come from within. Being a police officer is owning a part of the values of emotional and physical toughness which embody their profession. Sadly, all this power and strength are not immune to the frailty of the mind.
Usually asking for help with a personal matter would indicate a sign of weakness. If an officer were to take a day off for a psychologist appointment, he/she would be seen as unable.
There are policies written by police departments which scream stigma! These discriminating policies require some officers who are in mental health treatment or who take psychotropic medicines to be held to a different standard. These officers are to inform the department and even face duty restrictions while undergoing psychiatric care. The stigma seen here just continues to repeat the garbage which is knee-high around the force which perpetuates wrong information concerning mental illness.
Solutions to stigma’s problems
The homeless mental illness stigma solution
To keep mental illness out of the homeless shelters, below is a list of some ideas thought of by experts and advocates they say, cities similar to San Francisco need. “At some point, we have to ask: Are we going to offer better services to these people? Or are we going to spend that money on law enforcement and prison and emergency room bills? Are we just going to leave these people untreated?”
You can weigh the pros and cons of all these scenarios. But what it comes down to is the cost of a life.
Below are a few strategies to move forward in healing the homeless mentally ill population:
- a mental health system which brings care that is matched to individuals’ needs and provides perfect undisrupted housing;
- additional tens of hundreds of inpatient psychiatric beds that have the ability to treat the most severely mentally ill; and
- hundreds of thousands more accommodating housing divisions keeping open the pipeline of caregiving people with mental illness a permanent home.
African-American mental illness stigma solution
The most important component to removing the mental illness stigma from the community is education. That is number one on the priority list. These neighborhoods desperately need an ethnic shift in order to foster an atmosphere in which friends and loved ones can seek non-judgmental support for a mental health condition. This is practically impossible without education.
Here is a list that could have a magnanimous effect and change African-American communities:
- public education campaigns;
- educational presentations at community venues
- open information sessions at local mental health clinics; and
- educational presentations at church events.
Police mental illness stigma solution
The stigma found in the police department can be destroyed by using the ideas below. Never stop encouraging and educating people in this area. The right person will come along who needed to your knowledge and compassion.
- learn to comprehend, receive, and decide what is required to treat your mental health;
- Enact a stigma-free culture throughout the forces;
- enlist social media, family, friends and coworkers to help encourage and destigmatize the illness; and
We have discussed how mental illness stigma effects three groups: homeless, African-Americans and police officers. You can make a huge impact on somebody’s world. Get involved with your local politics and get in a health committee. Go to your pastor and discuss an event at the church which could also teach about mental illness. Do you know someone who is a police officer? Yes or no, the answer is still the same: talk about mental illness.
Call to action
Have fun with your assignment. Send me an email to let me know what you did and how it turned out. [email protected] Also, share with me your ideas for busting stigma.