How to make a difference in the life of someone with mental illness

by Anne Weiher

1.  Use person-first language. I am not bipolar, I live with bipolar disorder. Do not refer us as “the mentally ill.”  Call us “people who live with mental illnesses.”

2. While I can hide my illness, many cannot. All of God’s creatures deserve love and respect from others.  Please treat us accordingly.

3. Educate yourself about my illness and those of others. Know that I would appreciate sincere questions about my current state. It is isolating living with a mental illness, and there are few with whom I can share my true self because of the incredible stigma surrounding mental illness. Here’s evidence of the stigma:

In 1996 the government started a campaign about mental illness, with the slogan “Mental illness – a disease like any other.” To study the efficacy of the campaign, individuals were asked in 1996 about their ideas around mental illness. The same questions were asked in 2006 to see if the campaign had made a difference. The study looked at three conditions: schizophrenia, depression, and alcohol dependence.

Some of the results:

Study participants saw all three conditions as genetic problems and chemical imbalances.

However, 62% of those studied would not want to work closely with someone with schizophrenia, 45% would not like to have them as a neighbor, 52% would not socialize with them, 69% would not want someone to marry into the family and between 60% and 84% see those with schizophrenia as violent.

Equally disturbing results of those studied were about major depression:  47% would not want to work closely with someone with depression, 20% would not want to have someone as a neighbor, 30% would not want to socialize with someone with major depression, and 53% would not want someone with major depression to marry into the family and between 70% and 32% see these individuals as violent.1

Until we can truly decrease stigma, it will make my life a challenge in some ways.

4. Be my friend and realize that this might be difficult at times.

5. Take my despair seriously. Educate yourself about suicide and if someone is talking about suicide, take them seriously.

Anne Weiher

INMI board member

1Pescosolido, B.A., Martin, J.K., Long, J.S., Medina, T.A., Phelan, J.C. & Link, B.C. (2010).  “A disease like any   other?”? A decade of change in public reactions to schizophrenia, depression, and alcohol dependence.  American Journal of Psychiatry,16711). Pp.1321-1330.


The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the submitter. They do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the board of directors or members of the Interfaith Network on Mental Illness.