As a society, we are bombarded with negative images of people with mental illnesses. The media and entertainment industries overwhelmingly present people with mental illnesses as dangerous, violent and unpredictable individuals. These inaccurate and unfair portrayals shape the public's perception of those who suffer from mental disorders as people to be feared and avoided.
This stigma has tragic consequences. Many people with mental health problems fail to seek treatment because of the shame associated with their illness. And most will experience some form of discrimination, whether in the workplace, health insurance plans or social settings. * - National Mental Health Association
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness:
Stigma, Discrimination and Neglect prevent care and treatment from reaching people with mental illnesses. (World Health Organization Report, October 2001). - Hyperlink to document for web
For some it is a very uncomfortable subject. We, as adults, are afraid that if we do discuss a diagnosis, it will set us apart from others. It may affect our jobs or our relationships with friends and family members.
Because mental illness is often poorly understood, some patients feel unfairly victimized by stigma. They may feel that mental illness is somehow shameful, or that they or their family are somehow to blame. One in five people worldwide have a mental or neurological disorder at some point in their lives, most often depression or bipolar disorder. Just as people can suffer from heart disease, cancer or diabetes, people can experience a consequence of mental illness.
Let them know that you are there to help and that people do care for them. Whatever painful experiences they are currently dealing with can be treated and there is help. No issue they may currently be facing is worth arrest or increased risk taking behavior. There is help.
Be a good listener and do not judge. "Words cannot replace the helplessness that someone may be feeling." "I know that I may never experience the pain you're going through, but I can be there to help you through it." "I can listen and I can support you."
There are mental-health organizations, support groups statewide who can help you. Or you may be more comfortable first talking to a member of your clergy. (NAMI Utah) offers free educational classes and support groups and can direct you to other services in your area. See Resources and web links for additional information.
Listen to what he/she is saying. Find out how they are feeling. If you are a teenager, talk to a trusted adult as soon as you can. Do not dismiss their words. Many young men and women who have a severe mental illness have told someone about their intent to harm themselves or others.
Tell them that you care about them and want to find ways to get them help. Do not promise not to tell someone or not to get help. Do not judge them or their reasons for feeling suicidal. Reassure them that you will do all you can to help them.