Mental Health: #StopTheStigma
In part 3 of our mental health awareness month feature, we speak with Bring Change to Mind program manager, Leanne Loughran, about what they are doing to end the stigma and discrimination surrounding mental health. Gianna tells us how she got involved at her school.
Rebecca: Hi there and welcome to In My Words, Jumo’s podcast series that brings the experiences of real patients directly to you. At Jumo we provide resources for children and families to understand, manage, and own their health.
Leanne: In my words, having a loved one with mental illness means to me, being there on a daily basis to just tell them you love them.
Rebecca: Hi everyone, it’s Rebecca, and we’re here for part 3 of our Mental Health Awareness month edition of In My Words. We spoke last time about stigma and how important language is when talking about mental health – it has the power to help fight that stigma and encourage conversation.
What’s great is that there are organizations leading this conversation and helping fight the stigma every day. Today we’ll be spotlighting one of them: Bring Change to Mind. This takes us back to Gianna, who you’ve heard in the last two episodes. She got involved with this organization through her school and has found her time spent helping other students extremely valuable. But first, we’re here with Bring Change to Mind program manager, Leanne Loughran. That was Leanne at the beginning of this episode. I’ll let her introduce herself.
Leanne: Yes my name's Leanne Loughran; I’m the program manager at Bring Change to Mind.
Rebecca: Leanne, can you tell us a bit about Bring Change to Mind?
Leanne: Bring Change to Mind is a national mental health awareness organization and we really focus on reducing the stigma of mental illness and encouraging people to start the conversation with their friends, family, and peers.
Rebecca: Leanne, we know that this stigma exists…but why do you think there is so much of it surrounding mental health?
Leanne: I think people are afraid of what they don't understand, and I think even though it's so prevalent, people just don't have the details, and there's so many of these misconceptions that surrounds mental illness and their diagnosis. So, I think the media in particular has done a pretty poor job of showing us an accurate description of mental illness. So, I think a lot of movies would portray it as, you know, if you have a mental illness you can't hold a job, you can't have a healthy relationship, and you're more likely to commit violence if you have mental illness - which is actually completely untrue. In fact, if you have a mental illness, you're more likely to be a victim of a crime, and especially a violent crime. And I think what we are trying to do through BC2M is really to change that perspective and to inform people of the accurate details about mental health and illness.
Rebecca: So the misconceptions surrounding mental illness are likely not helping the cause. What does Bring Change to Mind recommend to people who are trying to help fight mental health stigma?
Leanne: I think just starting the conversation is probably the most basic first step. As Gianna said, I think just showing your friends, your family, that this is a normal illness to have, or common illness, I suppose, it's not something to be scared of or ashamed of. And I think it definitely has a domino effect when you open up and tell somebody what's going on in your life, people are so eager to share their story. And that's definitely something I've witnessed taking on this role. Once I go in and tell people about my experience – so, when I was in high school, my mom was diagnosed with bipolar disorder - and I was so afraid to talk at that. And I explained that to a lot of the kids that I meet with during presentations and straight away they open up or would come up to me at the end of the presentation and say, “I never told anybody else this: actually my parents, my sister, my brother whoever it is, also has a diagnosis and I don't know how to talk about it with my friends. So I think that's huge. I think we're just opening the door through conversation and just really encouraging more people to get involved and treat this as any other physical illness. And so yeah, definitely starting the conversation and utilizing the so many resources that are available online - Crisis Text Line is a huge resource that I promote to any club that we work with, or any school that we work with, and suicide prevention hotline. I know there are online chat rooms and stuff; I think you would just have to make sure that that's a closely monitored chat room so that it's positive and healthy - a healthy environment to be involved with.
Rebecca: Thanks for sharing your personal story and perspective, Leanne. That’s clearly a way to connect and help others open up. So Gianna, how did you get involved with Bring Change to Mind?
Gianna: I went to a Psychology Club meeting at my school - one of my sister's best friends was an officer in the club and so he wants to go out and show support for her. And so the initial meeting kind of wrapped me in and when they told me that there was going to be a speaker pretty much about mental health and mental illnesses, in general, and ending stigma, I immediately was like, “I'm definitely going to go to the next meeting.” And so Leanne, I guess I would say, maybe gave us a pitch about the organization, and of course it was like, such a wonderful thing and so I downloaded the app and I signed up for it, of course. And then when I found out about the teen advisory board, I definitely wanted to join and, you know, bring awareness about this wonderful organization that's bringing awareness in general to mental health and ending stigma. Because, you know, I felt stigma in my household; as a kid I had immigrant parents that were Middle Eastern, extremely religious. I was pretty much told that, you know, mental health is pretty much just like – oh, just get out of bed you can do it. And I see a lot of people in general just trivializing mental health and stigmatizing it, like, you know, “depression’s synonymous with laziness; anxiety is just like, oh you're weak, you're an introvert.”
And so I of course wanted to end that narrative and bring a new insight in general like what people with mental illnesses look like because I've been told before oh you don't look like someone with depression and I'm like it's just because I'm out of the house and I'm speaking and maybe I'm a lot more open than some people, that doesn't like define me as a person.
Rebecca: Do you feel your involvement with Bring Change to Mind has helped you on a personal level?
Gianna: To be honest, I kind of felt, like, in limbo. I just finished therapy and I'm like, what now? And this organization kind of gave me purpose, because, you know, after getting better in general, I could have maybe gone down the path where I would just continue to not talk about it - to just live maybe a more normal life. I just let kids at school continue believing that I was perfectly fine and that nothing had happened. But I decided to go on a route where I wanted to bring awareness and I wanted to end the entire stigma that I had to face with my family, with some of my peers, and just you know break through that and help. So for the most part it gave me purpose again.
Rebecca: That’s an interesting reflection, Gianna, that you felt like you were in limbo. So how has that experience helped you transition to help others - what are you and your classmates doing through Bring Change to Mind to increase awareness of mental health and to help fight the stigma?
Gianna: Well first of all, BC2M…just I think the fact that we're talking about it - just talking about it ends stigma, but then there's also activities that we did to help people, in general. There was an eating disorder awareness week, so at my school we had the mental health advocate talk to kids about how many people suffer from an eating disorder. And there is also this topic that was brought up about how, you know, men also suffer from eating disorders and that wasn't really approached a lot, because I don't think a lot of people want to break the whole “masculinity thing.” Apparently you're not masculine if you suffer from an eating disorder. And so a lot of boys at school had struggled to speak about it and I think just reminding girls and peers, in general, like it's on both spectrums. Like anyone can suffer from it, that it was like kind of powerful for the most part because it was reminding students that like, you're not alone and that everyone can be educated even more. I always feel like the easiest way to end stigma is through education. If you educate someone they'll be more open to it. I feel like a lot of it is maybe ignorance because it hasn't been talked about, there aren't a lot of resources. There are many people talking about it in general so I kind of can't help but feel bad for someone if they don't know about it because it's like, well how do they know better if no one's talking about it?
Rebecca: So Leanne, it’s clear we need more people like Gianna. How can our listeners get more involved at their schools?
Leanne: Yeah I think just get involved with any type of club that you can if you're interested in starting a BC2M club at your high school - and people can hopefully find out my information and through Jumo - or you can do something on your campus. Approach your administration and tell them that this is something that's really important to you and to your friends and advocate for yourselves, because if you don't do it nobody will.
Rebecca: We’ve talked about misconceptions and the fact that some people, especially those who have not been diagnosed with or affected by a mental illness, have a hard time relating to someone who is. Leanne, what can friends do to support someone who is dealing with a mental illness?
Leanne: Just be open minded. If you don't understand it, if you're not really sure, vocalize that. Tell them that. Say that, “I do not know what you’re going through, but I'm here to help you.” At the end of the day, this is still your best friend in the entire world and they just need you to probably just listen and to hear them, to listen to their struggle and say that you understand, that you're not going anywhere. You're probably not going to cure them, you cannot be their counselor, or you cannot be their therapist. But just to say that you're there to put a hand on their shoulder and say you'll walk through this process with them.
Rebecca: Leanne, what advice do you have for our listeners who many not have the support of a school program or are not sure where to seek help?
Leanne: If you are struggling with a mental illness, you are not alone. And I think it's so important to speak to people that you trust. If you are dealing with a mental illness right now, you're probably talking to at least your closest friend if you feel like you can confide in them. But I think at some point it's just really important to reach out to somebody that is qualified to deal with it at a higher level. Because we know a lot of students are waiting a significant amount of time from when their symptoms arise to when they seek treatment. I think that just means that there's this huge span of time when teens are struggling alone and in isolation. And I think that breaks my heart to hear that- please just reach out for help as soon as possible or if you become concerned with what you're going through and what you're dealing with.
Rebecca: Thanks, Leanne. Gianna, as someone who has been on both sides – receiving support from friends and giving it to others – what do you think is most important?
Gianna: I think it's to be open, because if someone with mental illness is talking to you and you already don't agree with anything they're saying or you don't understand it, just to approach everything with openness and understanding. Because there's no way this conversation is going to go anywhere if people continue to be closed minded, continue to not care, continue to trivialize it. So just approach it with open mindedness, with compassion, and just be open to information. Like you have to inform people on why this is just a stigma, it's not like a known fact. You know, depression isn't laziness. It's not being, you know, self-serving; you're not just trying to be someone like… it's hard to explain, for the most part because it's different for every person. But for me, for the most part, it was just coming out and being like, yeah I can be talkative and still be this. A lot of people put you in a box and I just think openness is something that needs to be focused on more.
Rebecca: Thank you both so much for speaking so openly with us today and allowing us to continue to shed light on the topic of mental health. For any of our listeners out there who are interested in starting a chapter of Bring Change to Mind, check out the link to their website in the show notes of this episode.
This concludes our 3-part feature on mental health. I’d like to thank our listeners for taking an important first step in the fight against mental health stigma: getting informed. As Gianna said, “the easiest way to end stigma is through education.” The better educated we become about mental health - including listening to the experiences of others - the better we’ll be at helping friends, family members and even ourselves seek help, when needed. Starting the conversation and being open-minded about what you are or someone else is experiencing can go a long way in fighting the stigma associated with mental health.
We’d like to thank Gianna for sharing her story; her bravery and ambition in getting people to talk about mental health is truly admirable. We’d also like to thank Dr. Joshi, for helping us better understand mental illness, the importance of language, the warning signs to look out for and where to find and seek help. Finally, thanks to Leanne Loughran and the team at Bring Change to Mind for all that they are doing to help end mental health stigma.
We hope throughout the past three episodes that you’ve learned something valuable, and that you’ll join us at Jumo Health in our efforts to start the conversation and stop the stigma.
For resources and information on mental health and suicide prevention, visit JEDfoundation.org. The JED Foundation exists to protect emotional health and prevent suicide for our nation's teens and young adults. This podcast and the information provided is not to replace clinical therapy and treatment. If you are in a crisis and need immediate help,
- Call 911 or go to the nearest emergency room
- Text “START” to 741-741 or Call 1-800-273-TALK (8255), available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, confidential, free of charge
- Go to your local healthcare provider or school’s counseling center (during business hours) or call campus security or the emergency number provided
Rebecca: Thanks for listening! Interested in hearing something special - or want us to help share your story? Reach out to us, we’d love to hear from you! See you next time!
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