Stigma Surrounding Mental Health
Over half of individuals with mental illness do not receive help for their disorders. Due to the stigma surrounding mental illness, many people avoid seeking treatment out of fear of discrimination or judgment. Researchers have identified three different types of stigmas: public, self, and institutional.
Public Stigma: this involves the negative attitudes, sometimes utilized to discriminate, which others have regarding mental illness. This may include stereotypes, personal experiences, or misinformation.
Self-Stigma: this refers to negative views, such as internalized shame, that those with mental illness carry, regarding their disorders.
Institutional Stigma: this occurs on a systemic level, which may include policies from organizations or government that, either intentionally or unintentionally, limit opportunities for individuals with mental illness.
Changes in the Mental Illness Stigma
Over the last few years, we have seen an influx in education surrounding mental illness. Between organizations that promote information around mental health, public figures discussing their personal experiences with mental illness, and more resources popping up for those needing talk therapy; medication; or suicide prevention, the topic of mental health has become less stigmatized. With the discussions becoming more prominent, individuals have slowly started to come around to being open about their experiences with mental illness. Through a culmination of tasks, we are all able to de-stigmatize mental illness.
How the Stigma can be Harmful
Stigma, as well as discrimination, can lead to worsening of symptoms, as well as delays in seeking treatment. Individuals with self-stigma have been found to have the following barriers to recovery:
- Reduction in Hope
- Lower self-esteem
- Increase in Psychiatric symptoms
- Difficulties in Interpersonal Relationships
- Reduction in Compliance with Treatment
- Difficulties in School/Work.
Harmful effects of stigma at the institutional level include:
- Social Isolation
- Discrimination or lack of support/understanding by family, friends, coworkers, etc.
- Difficulty acquiring housing
- Lack of opportunities with work, school, and social activities
- Bullying, harassment, violence
- Lack of adequate coverage for mental health treatment through health insurance
- Falling into thought traps that success is unattainable or that improving the situation is impossible.
Speaking Openly about Mental Health
As a therapist, I try to be extremely open with my clients regarding my mental health: my experiences with generalized anxiety disorder and attention deficit disorder, inattentive type; my choice to utilize an SSRI and stimulant to manage symptoms of anxiety and inattention; and my experiences in talk therapy. I believe that this allows others to feel more open to therapy, medication, and discussing their own experiences, knowing that they are talking with someone who also deals with these situations.
Not only am I open with my clients regarding my mental health, but I also have been open with those in my life and on social media. By posting videos, pictures, and narratives on different platforms, I have allowed others to see my story. This has been empowering in many ways and has also given others the view that there is nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to discussing mental health.
Many people have expressed to me that my openness to my struggles with mental health has encouraged them to seek out treatment or has helped them to view mental illness in a different light. Likewise, I have heard from clients that what encouraged them to finally seek out treatment was because of family members or friends who were open with them about their personal experiences, oftentimes leading them to view seeking help as an attainable solution to their problems.
Educate Yourself (and others!)
There are plenty of stereotypes, as well as misinformation out there regarding mental illness. When you hear negative comments about mental health or are present with someone stating misinformation regarding mental health, do not be afraid to say something.
Keep in mind that if you hear someone making a rude comment regarding mental illness, they may not be intending to be disrespectful, but may simply be spouting something they have been taught. It is okay to approach this in an educational way, rather than confrontational, so as to avoid conflict while still sharing the correct information.
Consider the Language you Utilize
At times, individuals may utilize problematic terms in daily speech; such as using language that tends to promote stereotypes or make jokes out of disorders. For instance, when growing up, I remember people stating that others were acting bipolar when having mood swings. Due to this term being used, I grew up with this false impression of what it was to be bipolar. As well, I recognized that when this term was used, there was a negative connotation attached.
Not only can we be more conscientious of the language we use which can be harmful, but we can also ask those around us to be more courteous of the things they say and the ideas that their words are promoting.
Many organizations are available to promote the improvement of mental health, as well as to get involved within the community. This might involve larger, more well-known groups such as National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), or smaller, local agencies. Whether it is by joining a support group, volunteering at a mental health-related event, or posting on social media for Mental Health Awareness month, small actions can add up and revamp the public outlook on mental illness.
Separate ‘Self’ from ‘Disorder’
While many people come to accept their disorder as a part of who they are, as well as finding ways to find peace with their reality, it is important to recognize that you are not your illness. Stating things like ‘I have schizophrenia’ or ‘I have borderline personality disorder’, rather than ‘I am schizophrenic’ or ‘I am borderline’, allows for the disorder to be a part of you–rather than equating it to your entire being. This works when referring to others as well and can help to see that others have an illness, but that is not who they are, it is just a piece of the puzzle.
Whether you struggle personally with mental illness, or you have a loved one who does, or maybe you simply have heard of different disorders, we are all capable of compassion. Someone who deals with Mental Illness may think or act differently than you, yet this does not mean they are a bad person. Keep in mind that knowing ‘someone with bipolar’ does not mean you understand everyone who has bipolar disorder. Allowing others to tell you their personal experiences, if they are open to this, can help to get to know how the disorder affects different people. This can also help with the ability to empathize with those who are dealing with these disorders, which can assist in eliminating the stigma and stereotypes.
There are many ways to normalize treatment, such as encouraging loved ones who are in need to seek out treatment, obtaining therapy yourself, and ensuring that your spoken thoughts regarding therapy are positive and encouraging. If you are in treatment yourself and feel comfortable, share this information with others! The more people are open about therapy and refrain from acting embarrassed of your participation in treatment.
In addition, if you are not already involved in therapy, do not allow stigma to prevent you from seeking help. Therapy can completely change someone’s life in a multitude of positive ways, which can lead to a happier lifestyle and a decrease in symptoms of concern.
We all have our own narrative in our heads, which means that regardless of what is happening around us, our personal thoughts are the biggest influence on our beliefs. The outside environment may amplify shame or doubt, yet the way that we speak to ourselves can cause the false belief that a need for help is a sign of weakness. Seeking out counselling, doing research about the symptoms and disorders you are dealing with, and becoming an advocate for individuals who deal with mental illness, all can help to feel more comfortable with your diagnosis, as well as other people’s.
If you are looking for a therapist to discuss overcoming the stigma surrounding Mental Health, our therapists through Online-Therapy.com provide Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
We have a variety of therapists who would love to help you with mental health concerns. Our platform offers a complete online therapy toolbox which includes time with a personal therapist who can support you throughout your journey. If this is something you have an interest in, we would love to hear from you.
American Psychiatric Association. Stigma, Prejudice and Discrimination Against People with Mental Illness. (https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/stigma-and-discrimination). Accessed on 09/27/22.
Mayo Clinic. Mental Health: Overcoming the Stigma of Mental Illness. (https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mental-illness/in-depth/mental-health/art-20046477). Accessed on 09/27/22.
National Alliance on Mental Health. 9 Ways to Fight Mental Health Stigma. (https://www.nami.org/blogs/nami-blog/october-2017/9-ways-to-fight-mental-health-stigma). Accessed on 09/27/22.