As you know Rotary International President Gordon McAnally has inspired us to think about Creating Hope in the World, and we can do so by ensuring we are practicing caring for ourselves and others this Rotary year.  Each month we will take a moment to share a mental health moment to inspire you on how you can practice caring for yourself and others.  In addition, District 5150 has taken a pledge to focus on mental health and has a group of committed Rotarians working towards making a difference in the arena of mental health here in our own district.  If you are interested in being a part of the discussion and solution our next district wide meeting will be January 8, at 6pm. Our speaker is Christine Garcia.  She is CEO of Side by Side which works with young people who are impacted by adversity on their unique journeys to heal from trauma, restore resilience, and embrace their own potential. She will tell us more about Side by Side and lead us through a discussion on ways we as Rotarians can engage youth on mental health issues.  If you need additional information, please contact Jenny Bates.
 
We hope you will also consider our newly created Rotary Men’s Support Group.  The focus of the discussion is helping men improve their communication with family and friends. The next meeting will be on January 11, 2024, 6:00pm. There is no charge to attend the group and it is open to non-Rotary members. The group is facilitated by Dr. Mikol Davis, a clinical psychologist.  For more information or to RSVP contact Jeff Slavitz at (415) 310-2410 or Henry Choi at (415) 730-5539.
 

Stigma Busting

One day in April, I came home from high school and my world was forever changed. “Mom, why do you have aluminum foil wrapped around your head?” My mother, who just months prior worked two jobs as a nurse’s aid, was now relegated to sitting on the couch for most of the days preventing government rays from penetrating her body.
At 14, reaching out desperately to family members and church members I was only met with apathy or disdain, told “She’s just tired, overworked” and that I was overreacting.
We didn’t talk about mental illness back then. The words, “mental illness” did not exist in the community vocabulary. There were other words like “crazy” or “insane.” Words that created shame, resentment, and animosity.
 
Still today the stigma of mental illness is looming. People don't know how to talk, think, or know what to do about it. It is an ongoing issue for those going through it, and for friends, families, and caregivers. It is important that we address the stigma so we can help the people who need the help

Why Stigma Busting is Important?

The stigma in mental health is devastating. Stigma can lead to discrimination and being ostracized. This can make mental health problems worse and prevent a person from getting the help they need. No one wants to be labeled something society sees as negative. Feelings of being inferior, shame, disappointment and embarrassment can lead to alienation.
Stigma can come in many forms.
  • Lack of understanding by our main support groups i.e. family, friends, co-workers, faith leaders
  • Being discriminated in the workplace
  • Given fewer opportunities in school or being ostracized from peer group activities.  
  • Bullying, physical violence or harassment especially through social media
  • Lack of care by no or inadequate health insurance provide mental illness treatment.
  • Internal dialogue believing you'll never succeed at certain challenges or that you can't improve your situation.

How can we help break the Stigma?

There are three main categories of stigma, Public, Systemic, and Self, that I think we can address as Rotarians.
 
Public Stigma Busting Actions: The discriminations and devaluation by others
  • Share your own personal experiences if you feel comfortable to show solidarity and understanding, show people what the face of someone who has dealt with people who’ve had mental illness or have mental health challenges. When people understand that mental illness can affect anyone, including someone in their circle, they are more likely to be less critical and more accepting of others in similar situations.
  • Watch the conversations around you. Be conscious of language – remind people that words matter.
  • Create content for the public: write blogs, create videos, or podcasts that address mental health stigma.
Systemic Stigma Busting Actions: Reduced access to care and Resources due to
Self Stigma Busting Actions: Internalization of negative stereotypes
  • Educate yourself and others – respond to misperceptions or negative comments by sharing facts and experiences.
  • Train to become a peer support worker.
  • Participate in or host events like mental health awareness walks.
  • Join campaigns that work for policy change.
  • Start conversations with friends, family, and colleagues.
  • Immerse yourself in literature about mental health to better understand different conditions.

Takeaway

 If my mother had gotten the help she needed, our story may have ended quite differently. The stigma and the shame kept us from the support and understanding that could have made all the difference in our lives.
 
We create a better world when we decide to address the gaps in our society rather than sweep them under a rug. We can prevent death by suicide and help people get the treatment and possible the recovery they need. It is part of our responsibility because those that need help will more likely talk with a friend, family member or faith leader before they would seek help from a mental health professional. Let us unite for Mental Health acceptance.
 
 
About the author:  Tashaki Ford is a proud member of the Rotary Club of Peninsula Starlight.  She is current President of her club and is also a board member of District 5150’s Rotarian Action Group for Mental Health.