My purpose in writing this post is to help educate in hopes that it will aid in reducing the stigma of mental health. I want to inform my readers of the stigma relating to mental health, how stigma impacts individuals and how to combat it and ensure the help is received.
There are over 450 million individuals in the world that suffer from a mental illness and yet the stereotypes and prejudices have not change since research first began to be conducted on mental health.
There are many stereotypes and a lot of stigma relating to mental illness, so much so that individuals disregard it to avoid the label. Since people avoid mental health in all ways, their mental suffers and get worse.
Stigma of Mental Health
Individuals with mental illness struggle with life stressors that many others without experience but it can be doubled due to the disability their mental illness can cause. Individuals with severe mental illness are less likely to have a good job, stable housing, quality healthcare, or quality relationships.
There are two types of stigma: self stigma and public stigma. Both types of stigma have stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination components.
Public Stigma is the reaction the public has to individuals diagnosed with a mental illness.
In example, I work at mental health clinic and the first question I am almost always asked is “How do you work around a bunch of crazy people all day?”.
This is of course based on the old-time but strongly told stereotype that individuals with mental illnesses are all walking around speaking to themselves and wanting to harm those around them.
How to reduce public stigma of mental health
The best way to combat public stigma is to advocate and educate the public. We must chose to stop believing all of the negative stories we hear about individuals with mental illnesses, as all it is doing is feeding off of your fear of the unknown.
The best way society will begin to reduce the stigma it places on individuals with persistent mental illness is to see them interacting within the public and society regularly. Data shows that individuals who have interacted with individuals with mental illness are more likely to disregard stereotypes and stigma than the latter.
Self-stigma is the reaction an individual has against themselves due to their illness.
In example, a client sat in my office and said “I cant believe that I am crazy and need to come talk to someone about my problems”.
More often than not these individuals have lower self esteem do not react to stigma and advocate for themselves as others do. Society does not understand that by having this stigma placed on individuals with mental illnesses, the ideas become internalized. Thereby decreasing their self worth and self confidence.
History of Mental Health Stigma
The term “stigma” originally was used to describe tattoos or marks on criminals or slaves so that they could be identified and returned. The term as we know it has a negative connotation in society even as we begin to learn more about mental illness, its stigma is still alive and strong.
Many individuals have the notion that was displayed in institutionalized care-asylums- in the 1840’s in the U.S. Luckily in the 1840’s activist around the world like Dorothea Dix advocated for better care and living conditions of individuals with mental illness. The asylums would highly medicate, lock up, restrain and degenerate human rights.
In 1946 President Truman passed the National Mental Health Act which allowed funds to research causes and evidence-based treatment of those with mental illnesses.
In 1996, the WPA started an initiative the fight the stigma relating to mental illness, that over 15 countries have joined, after an individual saw the stigma and discrimination one with schizophrenia experiences.
How stigma impacts individuals with mental illnesses
It is, at times, difficult to find a job, have decent housing, and be recognized as an equal in society for those with mental illnesses. Stigma created a fear among society of those with mental illnesses that each individual is violent, aggressive, hallucinates and homicidal.
Old movies, the media and other forms of entertainment instilled a fear as well as a lack of education about mental health. There was a lack of education about mental health due to a lack of research.
Due to a lack of education and increase of fear, individuals within society do not know “what will happen when we invite them in”. They have a fear that those with mental illness will “trash” their apartments. As mental health was/is associated with ignorance and violence.
Stigma reduces the likelihood that an individual will follow through with referrals to mental health, will seek aid on their own and most will deny any or all symptoms they are experiencing.
Individuals with mental illnesses stigmatize themselves by accepting less than what they deserve, not advocating for proper health care and stigmatizing others with mental illnesses. Individuals think they deserve to be disrespected or accept it because of how their symptoms may impose on others negatively.
Some will not advocate for proper health care because they do not want it or do not know how the system works or much about their diagnosis. Lastly, individuals stigmatize others with mental illnesses as well by believing personally they deserve to be treated with respect but not reflecting the same.
What will you do to decrease stigma relating to mental health or mental illnesses? What would you like to know more about relating to mental health?