October 10th is World Mental Health Awareness Day. The World Federation of Mental Health initiated this celebration in 1992. The purpose of celebrating this day is to spread global mental health education, awareness, and advocacy to eliminate social stigma around mental illness. Actually there is also a Mental Illness (Health) Awareness Day (MIAW) establish in 1990 with the joint efforts of U.S. congress and the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) that is celebrated the first full week of October.
On this mental health awareness day, a lot of celebrities and world organizations did their part to shed some light on the stigma around mental health. For example, the Duchess of Cambridge, Prince William said, “Mental health is not a dirty word – we all have mental health like we do physical health, good or ill. But not seeking help at those times when it all seems too much, or we are depressed or anxious, can impact the rest of our lives,” reported CBS News. Many others around the world expressed similar thoughts around the importance of emotional well-being and mental health.
As I was reading the news, it made me question, why do we even have the stigma in the first place? I know I did, but do I still have this stigma? I better not, I thought to myself. I work in the mental health field. I attend about 3 conferences a year on mental health. After some reflections over a coffee break, I can say that I don’t have stigma around mental illness/health. In fact, the journey of awareness to get to this point has been liberating.
Merriam-Webster defines stigma as a set of negative and often unfair beliefs that a society or a group of people have about something. I am coming from Indian background and there are many unfair beliefs about mental illness there. My own family, at times, can take offense to getting professional help for mental health issues. It is all around us. I am very thankful for all the learning and growth I went through as a part of schooling and personal development that I now consider down falls in emotional wellbeing as a sign of strength not weakness, because these downfalls stretch you to a new point of being. It takes a lot to admit that you don’t know what to do about a situation or that you can’t figure out why are you certain way and how to get out it. We don’t think twice to go to the doctor when we have fever, flu, stomachache, etc. But when we are feeling sad, anxious, overwhelmed, or on edge, we try to ignore those signs of distress. I think the problem is that we suppress small feelings here and there that become giant with time and cause emotional imbalance. As a mental health professional and helping individuals with small and big such mundane issues on daily basis, I want to say that the process of counseling and coaching grow you to a whole new level of growth, development, and personal achievement. I would encourage you to please get professional help if you are struggling with something and encourage your loved ones, family, and friends you see in distress to get professional help as well.