One of the things that makes it more difficult for people with mental illness to get the support they need and deserve is the stigma attached to having a mental health diagnosis. This stigma can take on several forms, and all of them are barriers to treatment and recovery
Types of Stigma
- Public Stigma – When people within a person’s community believe that people with mental health conditions are dangerous, responsible for their own condition, untrustworthy, etc. It may become socially acceptable to be unkind to people who are perceived as mentally ill. This can also make it harder for a person with a known mental illness to find employment, housing, and quality health care, important social determinants of health.
- Institutional Stigma – Laws and policies reflect negative stereotypes about mental illness. It is sometimes legal to discriminate against people with mental health conditions and harder for those who are harmed by these laws and policies to fight back against unfair biases.
- Self-Stigma – Occurs when a person with a mental health diagnosis believes the negative stereotypes about mental illness. The person comes to believe that they are a burden and unworthy of support from friends, family, and professionals. They may give up on seeking treatment or emotional support.
How to Address Stigma Around Mental Health
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) suggests a number of ways to address mental health stigma:
- Discuss mental health openly. Both face-to-face discussions and social media dialogues are great opportunities to show that mental illness is a topic you’re willing to talk about.
- Educate yourself and others about mental health. Stigma requires ignorance to continue existing, so the more people know about mental illness, the harder it is for stigmas to take hold.
- Be mindful of language. The preferred terminologies around mental health can sometimes change. When in doubt, defer to people who have the condition you are describing for the best verbiage to use.
- Address mental illness with the same compassion and kindness you would use to talk about a physical health condition.
- Don’t tolerate teasing about mental health concerns any more than you would stand for teasing about asthma, diabetes, or cancer.
- Recognize the right of individuals to make their own decisions about how to treat their condition.
- Be mindful of how childhood traumas can predispose people to certain mental health conditions.
- Call out stigmatizing behavior. Whether it’s the media, your friend, or a politician, if you hear someone making statements about mental health that can perpetuate stigma, talk to them about their mistake and ask them to do better.
Refuse to Stigmatize Yourself
If you are suffering from a mental health condition, refuse to embrace the false messages about mental illness. Instead:
- Seek out treatment – Therapy and medication are often helpful for people who have been diagnosed with a mental health condition. While it can take time to find the right combination of meds and a therapist who is a good fit for you, both of these options can be incredibly helpful.
- Reject self-doubt and shame – By refusing to embrace the false narrative that people with mental illness are to blame for their own conditions or should be ashamed of them, you are providing an example for other people that it is okay to struggle with mental health.
- Avoid isolation – Loneliness is one of the worst enemies of mental wellness. Spending time with family, friends, your religious community, or even just other people with a shared hobby can be helpful in fighting isolation.
- Separating yourself from your diagnosis – By recognizing that your condition is just one facet of what you’re experiencing and not a defining characteristic of your personality or your value as a human being, it is easier to keep a positive sense of self-regard.
- Find a support group – Seeing that you are not alone, and that other people are having similar struggles to yours can make it easier to maintain hope and self-esteem. It may also give you ideas for the symptoms that you find difficult to manage and provide a sense of empathy that is sometimes lacking from professionals.
- Accept help at school or work – If you attend a school or have an employer that offers you access to mental health support, do not be afraid to accept this help. This may allow you to add an additional person to your mental health supports and also access resources you didn’t know were available to you.
If you have been afraid to address your mental health due to worries that you would be treated unkindly or without regard for your own wishes, our caring team at Highland Hospital in West Virginia is eager to talk to you and ensure that you receive the compassionate, helpful care you need and deserve.