Diagnosis and treatment of mental illness have evolved over the years but one thing remains – the social stigma associated with having a mental illness.
According to BMC Psychiatry, stigma is defined as a negative stereotype and perception with prejudiced beliefs and discriminatory behavior. It affects anyone with a mental illness and is a recognized barrier to promoting mental health. Stigma on mental illness is widespread and prevalent. It can lead to reduced consults, non-compliance to treatment, or hesitancy to seek help at all.
Many people diagnosed with a mental illness have been stigmatized at least once at some point. They have been labeled negatively, called names, and blamed for their mental illness. Their symptoms have been disregarded, perceived as acting out, or been referred to as “a phase” they will soon get over. Because of stigma, people with mental illness are often discriminated against. These are concrete examples of stigma against people with a mental illness.
Society continues to see people with mental illness as disadvantaged, lesser members of society. Challenging the stigma associated with mental illness takes a lot of effort to educate others and help them understand the condition. The question now is, how we do stop the stigma associated with mental illness?
Effects of Stigma on Mental Illness
Mental illness is not considered as morbid as physical illness. However, mental health is just as important as mental health. Stigma affects the overall well-being of anyone who experiences it. Stigmatization often leads to a number of harmful effects, including:
- Reluctance to seek help or treatment for their mental illness
- Failure to follow-up with a health provider
- Self-isolation and social withdrawal
- Lack of support and understanding from family, friends, and other significant people
- Unequal opportunities at work or school
- Lowered self-esteem and confidence
- Bullying, harassment, judgment because of the condition
- Feeling hopeless and discouraged
- Self-doubt and self-criticism
Ways to Fight Stigma of Mental Illness
Educate yourself and other people about mental health. Lack of information is one of the first reasons people misunderstand and judge people with mental illness. Therefore, education is the single most powerful tool one can use to fight stigma. Education can reduce discrimination and stigma by changing the environment people with mental illness are surrounded by. Let people know about the condition, what it looks like, and what it feels like.
Make certain people know what mental illness is and isn’t.
Talk openly about your mental illness – whether to friends, family, or to the general public. Share your story so that people would see a living example of someone with a mental illness. Show them you are not “crazy”, “psychotic”, “violent”, “overreactive”, or any other negative labels people put on those with mental illness. Sharing to other people the challenges of having a mental illness, and its implications will help them understand better – eventually reducing prejudice and judgment directed against those with mental illness.
Talk to people you feel most comfortable with, but don’t expect them to understand and empathize in an instant.
Choose your words wisely. Being called hurtful words and labels is one of the most common stigma faced by people with mental illness. Some may casually call you “weird”, “nuts”, or “psycho” – and these words hurt a lot, especially when you know they aren’t true. Instead, choose to use respectful language when talking about mental illness.
A single wrong choice of words can make a deep dent on someone’s feelings, and a single word can cut deeper than a knife.
Treat mental health as you do physical health. If you can get sick from a physical illness, so can you from a mental one. Many people tend not to count mental illness as a real illness, even though it is. Without realizing it, our mental health affects us a lot. Pay attention to your mental health because mental illness, in the long run, can increase the risk for chronic diseases, poorer health outcomes, and an increased risk of death.
Treat mental illness equally as mental illness, because they affect each other greatly.
Support local and national mental health advocates and organizations. A simple social media post about facts on mental health can increase your reach and spread sound information. Many groups are available online for those who wish to advocate for people with mental illness. You may share posts on mental health, spread mental health awareness, or minimize stigma in some other way.
Showing support is also a form of educating others well about mental illness and promoting change in the way they are seen by people.
Seek treatment when necessary. Do not feel ashamed of your mental illness, because many other people around you experience it too. Seek the help of professionals at MindShift Wellness Center, where you can engage with psychologists you can trust and rely on. Contact the nearest MindShift Wellness near me today and book an appointment.