By: Anthony Scardina, NAMI Dane County Intern
For individuals with mental illness, the journey to recovery can seem dark and endless. Negative stigma surrounding mental illness impacts how individuals with mental illness are perceived by their peers, and how they perceive themselves. Having the support of family, friends, and/or co-workers, is extremely important and valuable for those affected by mental illness.
Stigma encourages isolation, blame, and secrecy, which creates huge challenges when it comes to getting needed support. When a person is in distress, their peers are often the first contact. The positive consequences of effective peer support cannot be over-looked. Here are three ways that peer support contributes to ending stigma associated with mental illness:
- Peer Support Promotes Conversation
Whether you identify with having a mental illness or are a peer to someone who does, peer support promotes conversation. In doing so, it provides people the confidence needed to openly talk about their mental health, rather than feel the need to hide it.
- Empowers Rather than Shames
Peer support empowers people to live their lives proudly. When peers choose to empower rather than shame, it helps reassure individuals that it’s okay to not be okay, and that they shouldn’t view themselves differently. It provides the encouragement needed for people to not only accept who they are, but to be proud of it.
- Continuing Education Leads to Empathy
Thanks in large part to the role that peer support has played; society has become more educated about mental illness. As a result, the push to destigmatize the perception of mental illness has become a priority for many. Educating our communities about mental illness fosters the growth of empathy. The more empathetic people become, the more accepting and understanding they will be towards those with mental illness.
The fight to end mental illness stigma is not an easy one, but it’s an important one. We must continue to create an accepting society where those with mental illness feel empowered and not shamed. We must continue to foster a safe environment that encourage our peers to openly talk about issues they face. We must continue to make strides towards a society where those with a mental illness aren’t looked down upon. And we must continue to provide peer support to each other, because without each other, we cannot succeed.
Interested in getting involved in peer support programs? Click here to learn more about the life-saving peer support programs offered by NAMI Dane County, and how you can contribute to a stigma free community.