A Resiliency Approach to Tackling Mental Health Stigma

By Michelle Silver

Last month (May) was nationally dedicated to mental health awareness, as the prevalence of mental illness has reached nearly 60 million Americans. Approximately 1 in 10 adolescents suffer with depression, and suicide is the third leading cause of death among youth ages 10-24 (CDC, 2014). However, of the nearly one million Americans that attempt suicide annually, for whatever reason, only 3.8% succeed. While all aspects of mental health are greatly stigmatized, suicide tends to be the most stigmatized and least discussed.

I recently attended a lecture about the importance of telling personal stories in a compelling way. The point was not to tell stories to get sympathy, but rather to invoke empathy that inspires change. You typically cannot gain the same value from a written document that you can from a personal story. Many of the people who now work in suicide prevention do so because of their prior experiences dealing with the issue.  However, instead of being able to share valuable personal experiences and make relevant comparisons, they are not usually encouraged to do so, because some people fear that may help progress an individual’s suicidal plans.

There is potentially great value in working with suicide survivors, since they know exactly what the experience feels like, what kind of help does and does not work, and where gaps lie in an outsiders’ understanding. Instead of silencing those individuals whose lives do not end in suicide, we must take the necessary steps to change our culture.  We must encourage survivors, once they are ready and feel comfortable, to share their personal stories. Finding somebody you connect with, who understands what you are going through, and who knows how to talk to you may be just what a struggling individual needs.

While some may be skeptical about utilizing suicide survivors, it is important to understand the benefits of working with them and utilizing their expertise.  Not only would they be beneficial for counseling services, but they would also be extremely helpful consults when making efforts to improve treatment programs.  We must get over our irrational societal “fear” of hearing what these people have to say and stop silencing them. It is critical to understand just how valuable these people may be for somebody in need.

Inspired by: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/14/us/suicide-prevention-sheds-a-longstanding-taboo-talking-about-attempts.html

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