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5 Ways to Decrease the Stigma of Mental Health

5 Ways to Decrease the Stigma of Mental Health

Introduction by Annamarie Fernyak

In the following blog post, Erin talks about the stigma of mental health and common biases toward people who may be suffering from mental illness. Before Erin’s thoughtful essay, I never considered that I might have biases. After reflecting on Erin’s words, I came to realize that some biases were just below the surface.  

So, what can we do once you know those subconscious inclinations exist? What do I do? 

Be mindful, of course! We each have the beautiful ability to tune the dial of awareness onto our thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations.  By paying careful attention, we gain information and uncover unwanted habits and beliefs. The pause taken to tune into awareness provides the opportunity for you to weigh what is happening at any moment against your values; then an action may be chosen.  It allows purposeful actions instead of reactions.  

Take time to self-reflect. Listen to your thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations. Discover if you have habitual ways of thinking or hidden prejudices, and invite yourself to think, act, and exist in a way that positively serves yourself and the world.  

Sending a virtual hug!!!

 

Mindfully,

 

Annamarie


 

“I heard you were sick the other day.  How are you feeling?”  
“You had surgery recently, right?  How are you recovering?”
“Oh no, you have the flu??  Stay home and take care of yourself!”

 

All of the above statements are commonly heard among friends and co-workers on a daily basis.  We are often able to discuss health issues and illnesses, checking on one another, and making sure physical health issues are addressed.  Imagine if the following was overheard:

I heard you had a manic episode last week.  How are you feeling?”
“You had a psychiatric hospitalization recently, right?  How are you doing?”
“Oh no, you had a panic attack?  Please stay home and take care of yourself!”

 

 

If any of the above statements make you uncomfortable, you are not alone. 

Except for those who work in the mental health field, the statements above do not roll off the tongue.  We are completely comfortable talking about the health ailments of ourselves and our friends, family, and co-workers; however, the stigma around mental health often leaves us speechless and silent, rendering those with mental health symptoms isolated and ostracized.

 

So why does this occur? 

There are a variety of reasons and theories.  In the Middle Ages, those with mental health symptoms were thought to be punished by God or possessed by the devil, so they were often imprisoned, burned, or killed.   Perhaps the discomfort around mental health stems from the colonial and industrial periods; at this time, women were commonly viewed as property of the fathers and husbands in their lives, and these men could have them “committed” to a sanitarium at any time, with very little evidence.  In the days of Nazi Germany, horrible experiments were conducted on those deemed mentally ill because some believed the mentally ill were a disposable population.

In the 1960s and 1970s, deinstitutionalization resulted in the influx of those diagnosed as severely mentally ill as these individuals re-entered local communities to receive treatment.  However, this also led to homelessness, and it doubled the number of people identified as mentally ill in the criminal justice system in the following years.  Additionally, the media sensationalize acts of violence and attribute them to mental illness, even if there is no evidence of a connection.

In this historical context, all episodes of mental illness get lumped together.  Whether the person is experiencing symptoms of schizophrenia, depression, or anxiety, the individual is often viewed from the same lens, both internally (view of self) and externally (how others view the person).  If one grows up hearing about “crazy” people, who commit acts of violence or who live on the street, and then experiences mental health symptoms, it can be alarming and unsettling.  Often, people will not admit to themselves or others what symptoms they experience for fear of being hospitalized, losing their job, or not being able to see or care for their children.  

 

What can the average person do then, to reduce this stigma for oneself and significant others? 

Mental health issues are isolating, and lack of connection with others exacerbates these issues. Human connection is the balm that heals. Sometimes, just having someone who is willing to sit with you, even in silence, is the most healing thing of all. Be that connection for someone. There are several things we can do :

 

1. Educate yourself

The more you know, the less scary and strange something will be.  And then, you can help educate others with facts.

 

2. Recognize what biases you have

Examine from where these biases stem, whether from how you were brought up or societal influences.

 

3. Talk about your own mental health struggles

Each of us has ups and downs in our moods and emotions; that is very normal.  Each of us also has times in our lives when we struggle with difficult situations and circumstances.  Talking about these struggles openly makes room and space for others to do so as well.

 

4. Be aware of language

Instead of saying words like “crazy” or “nuts” or “cuckoo”, or even saying things like “he’s bipolar” or “she’s depressed”, say things like “he has symptoms of bipolar disorder” or “those who have schizophrenic symptoms”.  This begins to identify the person as separate and distinct from the condition.

 

5. Support people who are struggling. 

Reach out to someone you know is having difficulty with anxiety, depression, or even a psychotic episode. Let them know you are there.  

 

 

 

 

*May is Mental Health Month and in support of our community, Mind Body Align is offering several FREE resources! Check it out here! 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ask A Yogi: Body Differences + Pose Modifications

Ask A Yogi: Body Differences + Pose Modifications

Q:  I enjoy doing yoga but I get insecure about my body differences.

When I need help with modifications, I am embarrassed to ask. What can I do to let the instructor know that I need some assistance without disrupting the class?

 

Amy:  I’m so glad to receive this question, and I really appreciate the phrase “body differences.” 

There’s a lot to care for here, so I’m going to break up the answer into two parts. (look for Part Two to post soon!)

 

 

Part One: The Culture of Body Differences: Insecurity & Positivity

 

Because we live together in a society, we grow up learning what is and isn’t acceptable, as well as what is and isn’t desirable or worthy of attention, comfort, or praise from a variety of industries that make up our popular culture.  From entertainment and leisure to fashion and trends, to scores of news outlets, we see, hear, and internalize sets of beliefs that shape our world view and self-image.  In addition to these broader influences, our belief systems are also shaped by our specific family culture, which can include ethnic and religious traditions, shared knowledge, beliefs, and behaviors, as well as the outlook, attitudes, values, morals, goals, and customs shared by our own immediate and extended families.  Because our cultural formation is both broad and specific, we grow into adulthood with a variety of filters unique to our own experience; and to add more complexity, these different lenses might even be in conflict with each other.  

 

You are not alone.  Our unique world view and self-image shape how we function in relation to ourselves and other people during public events and private moments.  We tend to compare ourselves to an internal “ideal,” to other groups of people, and individuls to see where we fall on the spectrum of “socially acceptable.”   

 

It’s helpful to remember that not only are we not alone in the experience of being different, but every single one of us has some kind of body difference, whether subtle or obvious, as well as invisible differences, such as auto-immune diseases, mental injury, complex learning styles, and so much more.  So when we head into a body-based class like yoga, we’re all bringing with us thousands of years of ancestral DNA, our own cultural formation, and all of our “differences” both seen and unseen.  

 

It is natural to experience insecurity around our differences.  And it’s also natural to experience positive emotions around our differences.   The next time you feel unsure about an instruction, posture, or practice in a yoga class, remember it’s not just you; most likely, other students are unsure about it, too.  We’ll get into the details more in Part Two, but briefly, if the style of the class is not too terribly fast, and you can make eye contact with the teacher, trying asking for general suggestions.  For instance, if you’d rather not ask specific questions about a particular topic, consider asking for more general modifications.  Try something like, “Can you offer any other options if this isn’t working for us?”  Remember this, if nothing else: Yoga, and yoga postures, are here in service to you; you are not in class to be of service to the postures.  

 

If you’d like to take this discussion further, if you’ve ever thought, “yoga is not for me,” or if you’d like to explore the possibilities around shifting from insecurity to positivity, here are some great resources:  

  • Amber Karnes & Body Positive Yoga: Amber is the founder of BodyPositiveYoga.com and the creator of Body Positive Clubhouse, an online community for folks who want to make peace with their bodies and build unshakable confidence.  
  • Yoga for AmputeesMarsha T. Danzig 
  • Amputee Yoga Association
  • Accessible Yoga:  AccessibleYoga.org:  A nonprofit organization that believes all people, regardless of ability or background, deserve equal access to the ancient teachings of yoga.  By building a strong network and advocating for a diverse Yoga culture that is inclusive and welcoming, Accessible Yoga is sharing Yoga with all.

 

Part Two – The Yoga Classroom:  Student-Teacher Relationship & Class Agreements (coming soon!) 

Resident MBA Yogi, Amy Secrist, is available to answer questions, give insight and guidance, and help you feel great about your yoga practice. You can email your questions to Amy@mindbodyalign.com or message us on Facebook or Instagram  #AskAYogi  @MindBodyAlign 

You can also join Amy for practice at the Butterfly House on Mondays and Wednesdays at 9:30 am. Learn more here. 

 

 

 

A Holiday Meditation

A Holiday Meditation

Each week our team at Mind Body Align gathers on Tuesday afternoons for a brief group mindfulness meditation. It’s a chance to connect not just as colleagues but as humans “being”.  This was my week to lead and I really felt pulled toward this fabulous meditation from Jack Kornfield as our monthly topic of gratitude was coming to a close plus we are all about to celebrate Thanksgiving.

I love the way it reminds us to begin our gratitude meditation by recognizing the way we feel and how we have cared for ourselves, then we express gratitude for all things and finally we move to express gratitude for others and wish them joy.

We were so moved by the words that we began our Coffee Talk with the meditation and now we want for you to be able to access it throughout the holiday season and beyond.

Meditation on Gratitude and Joy by Jack Kornfield

Let yourself sit quietly and at ease. Allow your body to be relaxed and open, your breath natural, your heart easy. Begin the practice of gratitude by feeling how year after year you have cared for your own life. Now let yourself begin to acknowledge all that has supported you in this care:

With gratitude I remember the people, animals, plants, insects, creatures of the sky and sea, air and water, fire and earth, all whose joyful exertion blesses my life every day.

With gratitude I remember the care and labor of a thousand generations of elders and ancestors who came before me.

I offer my gratitude for the safety and well-being I have been given.

I offer my gratitude for the blessing of this earth I have been given.

I offer my gratitude for the measure of health I have been given.

I offer my gratitude for the family and friends I have been given.

I offer my gratitude for the community I have been given.

I offer my gratitude for the teachings and lessons I have been given.

I offer my gratitude for the life I have been given.

Just as we are grateful for our blessings, so we can be grateful for the blessings of others.

Continue to breathe gently. Bring to mind someone you care about, someone it is easy to rejoice for. Picture them and feel the natural joy you have for their well-being, for their happiness and success. With each breath, offer them your grateful, heartfelt wishes:

May you be joyful.

May your happiness increase.

May you not be separated from great happiness.

May your good fortune and the causes for your joy and happiness increase.

Sense the sympathetic joy and caring in each phrase. When you feel some degree of natural gratitude for the happiness of this loved one, extend this practice to another person you care about. Recite the same simple phrases that express your heart’s intention.

Then gradually open the meditation to include neutral people, difficult people, and even enemies until you extend sympathetic joy to all beings everywhere, young and old, near and far.

Practice dwelling in joy until the deliberate effort of practice drops away and the intentions of joy blend into the natural joy of your own wise heart.

You can read the original post on Jack Kornfield’s website here

Service is a love language

Service is a love language

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others.

1 Peter 4:10

We have all been given specific talents and gifts.  We are all called to serve. Whether in our homes, offices, or communities, we feel the call.

At home, some of us have been called to be mothers.  The words maid, chef, and chauffeur sometimes feel awfully familiar.  The daunting tasks of laundry, dishes, homework, and taxiing from sport to sport, have us feeling like we are constantly treading water.  

When we work, we are trying to please our boss, client, or customer and hope that money keeps coming in the door, or that we get that next big break.

In our community we want to be involved, volunteer, and feel like we are a part of something “bigger” but… other commitments compete for our time.  

So… what if we change our thinking, our perception, or the way we view what we are doing?

I’ve always loved the quote by Maya Angelou…

“When we give cheerfully and accept thankfully, everyone is blessed.”  


It’s true, right?  Think of giving a gift to a special someone.  How does that make you feel? I think about when my kids are invited to a birthday party.  They are always so excited to go shopping for the present for the birthday boy or girl. They wait with anticipation until it’s time to open the gifts, just so they can see the face of the person who is opening and see how excited they are.  Giving to others brings them joy.

So, why not think the same of service?

Service is a love language that we can all speak, and in doing so, receive joy from.

Although I’m not sure laundry will ever be on my list of something that I enjoy doing, I have chosen to look at it as something that I can do to serve the ones I love.  When I grocery shop and prepare meals, I choose to be excited that I am able to serve my family with my cooking. When I take my kids from soccer to ballet, I can be excited that I am able to spend the time with them in the car, serving their needs while doing so.  

In our vocations, we can perceive what we are doing as a daunting task, or we can choose to use our talents to do our job and see that we are a part of something bigger than just the task at hand.

In our communities, we can choose to use our gifts to serve in whatever way we can, and that can bring us joy.  

There are so many ways to use our God-given gifts to serve others that even the littlest of things count, such as:

  • The next time you go to the store, try holding the door for the person behind you.
  • When you are on the road, let a car go in front of you in a traffic jam.
  • When you are out to eat, stack the plates and tidy up for your waitress.
  • Tomorrow morning, pick up coffee for a co-worker that might need a little pick-me-up.
  • At work, tell your boss how much s/he is appreciated.  
  • The next time you are in a store, at the mall or on a walk—smile at a stranger passing by.  

Serving comes in so many forms in all areas of our lives.  I challenge each of you to get out there today and change your way of thinking.  Don’t think of the “daunting tasks” that need to get done. Don’t think of “all the things on your plate”. Be excited that you are living on this earth today and that you have the ability to change your perspective. Be grateful that you are given this opportunity to give (serve) cheerfully, and then accept thankfully.  Everyone will be blessed.

Answering the call can bring us such joy if we just choose to be the faithful stewards that we were called to be.