NORFOLK, Va., Jan. 2, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- Each Jan. 3, households across the nation are encouraged to make room for a fresh start in the new year with National Fruitcake Toss Day, the official time to purge the pantry of unsavory holiday confections. Though initially created as a lighthearted observance, ValueOptions®, Inc., a health improvement company specializing in mental and emotional wellbeing and recovery, is using National Fruitcake Toss Day to bring awareness to the language we use to talk about mental illness.
Fruitcake. Lunatic. Crazy. Most of us have probably used these words when referring to someone with mental illness, and though we probably meant no harm by it, this kind of negative language increases the stigma surrounding mental disorders and perpetuates the myth that people with mental illness are unstable or out of control.
This year as you give your pantry a reprieve from the dreaded fruitcake, pledge to give your language a "fruitcake toss" of its own. Here are some simple ways to talk about mental illness, and to ensure a more compassionate 2014:
- Ditch destructive labels. Words like "fruitcake," "whacko," and "nuts" encourage the stigma of mental illness, and can prevent people from seeking the help they need and deserve.
- People should never be referred to as "mentally ill," "schizophrenics," "alcoholics," "anorexics," etc. People have disorders; they do not become a disorder. Instead, use such phrases as "people experiencing mental illness" or "individuals who have anorexia."
- Be sensitive to the use of words that connote negativity—such as "problem" or "suffering from"—to describe mental illness. Millions upon millions of people with mental illness lead normal, healthy lives, and are a far cry from the "unhinged madmen" portrayed by the media and in entertainment.
- Educate others! Gently correct those who use derogatory language when speaking about mental illness, and use the opportunity to share the prevalence of mental illness—many people are surprised to learn that nearly one in four of us is currently facing a mental illness.
- Speaking of language, be open to starting a dialogue of your own. Though nearly one in two Americans will face a mental illness in their lifetime, less than one-third of us will get the help we need. Talk about mental illness openly and respectfully, and encourage others to do the same. Supporters are crucial in ending the stigma surrounding behavioral health issues.
"It's estimated that up to 90 percent of people who receive treatment for mental health issues see a significant reduction in symptoms, but many of us shy away from seeking help in fear of being stigmatized by our friends, loved ones and communities," said Hal Levine, ValueOptions Chief Medical Officer. "That's why it's crucial to maintain an open dialogue about mental health, and to lessen the stigma of mental illness by talking about mental illness honestly, openly, and with sensitivity. The kind of language we use to talk about mental illness is crucial to making that dialogue productive."
To further combat the stigma of mental illness and to encourage an open dialogue about mental health, ValueOptions developed Stamp Out Stigma, an initiative to educate the public about the prevalence of mental illness and to create a network of support for those experiencing a mental health issue. In addition to providing a variety of mental health tools and resources, Stamp Out Stigma shares personal stories of those who have faced a mental illness firsthand or supported a loved one.
To get the conversation started about mental illness, and to access Stamp Out Stigma's full person-centric language guide, visit www.stampoutstigma.com.
ValueOptions is a health improvement company that serves more than 32 million individuals. On behalf of employers, health plans and government agencies, we manage innovative programs and solutions that directly address the challenges our health care system faces today. A national leader in the fields of mental and emotional wellbeing, recovery and resilience, employee assistance, and wellness, ValueOptions helps people make the difficult life changes needed to be healthier and more productive. With offices nationwide and a network of more than 130,000 provider locations, ValueOptions helps people take important steps in the right direction. We help them live their lives to the fullest potential. Visit www.valueoptions.com for more information.