The first week in October is Mental Illness Awareness Week. To commemorate, Unison Health offers this look at one of the most important issues within the mental health community — stigma.

When it comes to medical conditions, depression and other behavioral disorders are often among the most misunderstood. Although they’re quite common — 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience a mental illness — nearly 60% of adults who live with these conditions did not receive mental health services in the past year.

In part, that’s because behavioral disorders exist along an incredibly broad continuum of conditions, and they manifest themselves in very different ways among the people who live with them. As such, it can be difficult to gain an in-depth understanding of what is so often a highly personal struggle.

So we rely on the information that’s right in front of us. The media and entertainment industry, for example, often present the mentally ill as either dangerous or dealing with some inner turmoil that can be resolved through a hug and a few kind words.

The result, too often, is something known as stigma.

The Stigma of Depression and Other Behavioral Disorders

Stigma is when a person views someone else negatively because of a condition—in this case, a behavioral disorder. A person may be leery of engaging with someone because they’re concerned for their own well-being. They may also make an effort to engage, but come away feeling discouraged because their best intentions have, too often, too little impact. So it becomes easier for a person to withdraw, even as some they care about is visibly struggling.

What makes depression particularly problematic — especially compared to more conventional diseases — is that the stigma is often internalized by the person coping with the disorder. A person with cancer won’t often say, “I have cancer because I am a bad person,” but that’s all too common among people with depression.

Their brains are lying to them. No one really understands why this happens, but that’s the result. Their brains lie to them and tell them they’re no good. Which makes it hard to hear the good things other people are saying. Which makes people withdraw even further. Which makes for a terrible cycle of dysfunction.

Smashing the Stigma of Depression and Behavioral Disorders

Everyone touched by depression and other behavioral disorders (which, we’re pretty sure, constitutes just about everyone everywhere) can help to eliminate the stigmas that surround these common conditions! The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has put together a few steps you can take.

See the person, not the condition. Even people who live with depression, anxiety and other behavioral disorders have good days and bad days that might not be related to their condition. Consider whether the person is experiencing an episode — or just the same stresses and strains you experience on any given day. And when in doubt, ask (from a place of respect, of course).

If you think someone is having trouble, reach out. Often people who are in the midst of a depression, for example, will isolate themselves. It’s part of their own self-stigmatizing. Don’t be afraid to offer your support, and don’t worry if your words don’t immediately cure the problem. Just providing unconditional support can be incredibly meaningful.

Encourage equality in how people perceive physical illness and mental illness. You wouldn’t tell someone with a broken leg they’d feel better if they got more exercise. And you wouldn’t tell someone with skin cancer that people with liver cancer have it worse. When you just acknowledge that a person going through a depressive episode is suffering, and they really just need to feel heard or seen, you can do amazing things for someone you care about!

Unison Health Can Help When Depression Becomes Too Much

Sometimes, even when we all do our best to help someone, the pull of the behavioral disorder is just too strong. When that happens, Unison Health can help. Unison Health offers a broad array of services for adults, including programming designed to help each individual patient take those critical first steps toward a happier, healthier future For more information about Unison Health’s integrated care for adults, call 419-214-HOPE today!