James: Challenging stigma in everyday life

Like James, most of us experience moments in our lives when we hear something negative or stigmatising about mental health and think, “That’s really not OK”. It can make a big difference when you challenge people but it can be hard to know what to say sometimes.

“It's always difficult to hear someone being negative about you and your troubles when you're already struggling so much. But I've found being open and honest is key.

It took me a long time, but I've eventually gotten to a place where I can calmly yet assertively stand my ground in an attempt to help others understand the difficulties many people with mental health issues face every day.”

Katie, West Midlands Champion

Here are some ways that Champions have successfully challenged people when they have heard something stigmatising:

  • Checking out what the person has said and asking them to explain e.g. “What do you mean?”
  • Saying what you’d like to be different e.g. “I would like you to stop describing people as mad” rather than blaming the person or telling them their behaviour is wrong
  • Concentrating on the behaviour rather than the person e.g. avoiding phrases like “You’re discriminatory”
  • Sharing facts about mental health which contradict what they’re saying
  • Sharing facts about your own experience which contradict what they’re saying e.g. “I have schizophrenia and I don’t have a split personality.”
  • Sharing your feelings about what the person is saying e.g. “I feel hurt that you think people with depression are lazy.”
  • Making comparisons with physical health to help people understand that mental health is just as important and serious
  • If the person is talking about people with mental health problems without knowing that you have one, it can really help to change what they think if you tell them “You’re talking about me at the moment”

Champion Micha's advice on challenging stigma

When challenging stigma for the first time, it can be really scary. However, in my experience I have found that because as a society talking in a certain way about mental health has become the norm, sometimes people do not realise what they are saying.

Once someone commented on how another person “would be ok if she was just normal”. It always takes me back even now, because it means so much to me that people talk positively about mental health. I simply asked the person “so what is normal then, would you say that you are or I am?”, they instantly said “I’m so sorry, I shouldn’t of said that”.

Hearing these things can still upset me but I remind myself that it upsets me because I feel so passionate about stopping stigma.

I really do believe the more we challenge stigma the closer we get to gaining acceptance. Not just for the stigmatisers as I call them, but for ourselves. Because hearing that language can be hurtful. So the next time you hear something or see something, don’t be afraid to speak up. It's really not so bad, just make sure you are calm, diplomatic and that at the end you know you will be ok.