4 Ways to Educate Someone About Mental Illness

Note: This post has been translated into French by Stephane at Espoir Bipolaire! Click here to read the French translation!

How often have you heard an insensitive–and inaccurate–remark about mental illness? How about something like, “the weather can’t decide whether to be hot or cold. It’s so bipolar!” or “these basketball players need to talk to each other. They’re so schizo!” These expressions are stigmatizing because they connect mental illnesses to undesirable behaviors.

It’s not your job–and it certainly isn’t fair–to have to educate others about mental illnesses. But, if you feel the need, how do you approach someone who uses terms of disorders in a healthy way? These four tips will hopefully help.

1. Is Engaging Worth It?

educate

Credit to flickr.com user Flixel David. Used with permission under a Creative Commons license.

First, figure out whether you want to engage the person. You’ll be opening yourself up to criticism, especially if you have a mental illness yourself. If you’re dealing with a stranger in a crowded place, it may not be worth it to correct them. However, if you’re dealing with a well-intentioned friend, feel free.

2. Watch Your Tone

As difficult as it is to not become defensive, try. Coming across as positive and kind will go a long way towards educating the ignorant, because they’ll be more likely to open a dialogue with you rather than getting defensive themselves. It’s not fair to have to police  yourself like this, especially when tempers are boiling hot, but if you want to correct someone, it’s better to not go on the offense.

3. Get Personal

Try to use “me” statements such as, “When you say things like that, it really hurts me.” If you’re comfortable talking about your mental illness, tell a bit of your story to demonstrate the effect of their words on you.

4. Offer Resources

Hopefully, the person you encounter will be open to discussion. If so, then you can offer them resources which they can use to educate themselves further. Websites like nami.org, for the National Alliance of Mental Health, are a good starting point. You want to make sure your resources are as comprehensive as possible.

Again, it’s not fair to have to educate anyone about your struggles with mental illness, and it’s certainly not pleasant to have to police yourself in order to engage with someone. But, the more you educate, hopefully the less you’ll have to deal with insensitive remarks in the future.

Have you ever educated anyone?

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About Cassandra Stout

Freelance writer Cassandra Stout blogs at the award-winning Bipolar Parent, a comprehensive resource for parents with mental illnesses. Cassandra holds degrees from the University of Arizona in Creative Writing and Journalism. She has been a judge for the Pacific Northwest Writers' Association literary contest for nine years, where her memoir, Committed, recently placed as a finalist. She balances her literary work with raising her children, feeding her cat, and managing her bipolar disorder.
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4 Responses to 4 Ways to Educate Someone About Mental Illness

  1. dyane says:

    Yes I’ve definitely educated people, but it’s not always easy to do that without getting frustrated. Speaking of Education I know I’ve brought this up before but have you thought about submitting these posts to BP magazine for their blog or the international bipolar Foundation? they are so well-written and succinct and frankly they are a lot better than most of the things I’ve read on both blogs.

    • Absolutely, Dyane, I feel you on the frustration! Ugh! And I appreciate your thoughtful words of encouragement. Don’t even worry about the errors; that’s completely understandable, what with you on your trip!

  2. dyane says:

    Sorry for the errors! I’m talking into my cell phone because we don’t have internet up here at the cabin.

  3. Pingback: 4 points à aborder afin de parler à quelqu’un de sa maladie mentale – Espoir BIPOLAIRE

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