Why raising awareness around mental illness is not enough
This article originally appeared on LinkedIn on October 9 2020.
Mental health illnesses such as depression don’t discriminate; they can affect anyone at any time, in different ways, and don’t always have an obvious cause. Part of the reason for stigma around mental health issues today is due to their complexity, making them difficult to understand. I can recall the days when mental health was unspoken of in the workplace but more open dialogue has helped us make headway in understanding some of the key issues that affect those with mental health illnesses. That said, the stigma still thrives and simply raising ‘awareness’ of mental health isn’t enough.
Depression alone affects more than 300 million people around the world – that’s equivalent to two-thirds the population of the European Union! As depression is largely unseen, it’s easy for stigma to survive if we let it. Stigma and discrimination can prevent people from seeking help and this in turn, can make the symptoms of depression worse, easily leading people into a cycle of illness that becomes difficult to treat. People’s lives and the lives of those around them are hugely affected, from their relationships and social lives to their professional lives and their ability to get treatment, and this has great socioeconomic implications.
Recognizing depression and other mental illnesses as illnesses (not merely emotions) that can have severely disabling effects on all aspects of a person’s life will help us address stigma, however, I truly believe that this alone will not work. The healthcare industry has a responsibility to help eliminate stigma for good and we as leaders have an evolving role to play. We must re-evaluate how we approach people who open up to us about their mental health, but also how we support others in communicating, interacting and building long-term relationships with those affected. Inevitably, if we want to eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health illnesses for good, we must provide lasting support to those who live with these conditions and create environments in which they can have open conversations without judgement.
“We must re-evaluate how we approach people who open up to us about their mental health, but also how we support others in communicating, interacting and building long-term relationships with those affected.”
Through Janssen’s Breaking Depression campaign and other initiatives, this is exactly what we’re hoping to accomplish so that we can better care for those affected. The campaign features eight pieces of kintsugi art, inspired by stories from people living with major depressive disorder (MDD). Kintsugi is Japanese for ‘golden joinery’ and is the art of repairing broken objects using a gold-coloured lacquer. Similar to this process of repair, dealing with MDD can be a long and complex journey. These powerful kintsugi art pieces show how we can help people with MDD begin the healing process by dedicating time to listen to and understand their stories. The gold lacquer in each ceramic piece represents the cracks and imperfections that form part of its history while telling the story of a person living with MDD; it illustrates that cracks and damage are not something to conceal and that what is broken is not beyond repair.
…cracks and damage are not something to conceal and what is broken is not beyond repair.”
We’re continuously finding ways to break the stigmas around mental illness while going beyond raising awareness of the illness itself – and, indeed, as leaders in healthcare, it’s our duty to do so. In our pipeline of exciting initiatives is a toolkit that will provide people living with mental illness, carers and anyone affected by depression with indispensable communication tools based on insights from people living with depression and their family carers, to better prepare us all for starting conversations about mental health. I’m excited to share this new development with you, so watch this space.
How else can we break the mental health stigma once and for all?