3 Major Problems Caused by Mental Health Stigma
The problem of mental health stigma has gained some attention recently. The hashtag #mentalhealthawareness is found in almost 7 million Instagram posts as of writing this. The push for education is unprecedented. Hopefully, this signals the beginning of the end of ignorance about mental illness.
Mental health stigma is the false notion suggesting all sufferers of mental illness are unstable, violent, and other negative connotations.
This creates an unhealthy taboo around the subject.
In most societies, a stigma surrounds mental health making it difficult to get help. Many are reluctant to admit they have a disorder. Even someone aware of an issue may leave it untreated.
Lately, the media has started softening its views on mental illness. This was not always the case. For decades the news ran headlines depicting psychiatric patients as non-social or antisocial, uncontrollable, violent, and suicidal. Movies and TV did no better - they portrayed the mentally ill as homicidal or neurotic recluses.
While this change in the media is a good thing, there is a long way to go before we start openly discussing the realities of mental health.
These are the big 3 big problems caused by mental health stigma:
1. Negative consequences for sufferers:
The pain from mental illness takes a tragic toll.
There are countless negative outcomes to living with untreated mental illness. We have recently seen an increase in diagnoses of certain mental disorders - plus a rising suicide rate. Untreated, most disorders wreak havoc upon a sufferer’s quality of life. Work, family, relationships, and even once-fun activities all can be casualties of untreated mental illness.
The facade that mentally ill people are inherently different, dangerous, or volatile is nothing new. It goes back to when the diagnosis for psychological problems was demon possession (you can look this up!)
Over the years society continued to treat people with mental illness unfairly. These attitudes persist today although they have no basis in truth. Most sufferers of mental illness respond well to treatment and live happy, regular lives along with everyone else.
3. Self Stigma
Sufferers can internalize stigma. It affects the mind, damaging their view of self and/or causing avoidance of the subject altogether. This hinders treatment because someone with a disorder may experience denial, or fear that seeing a doctor means they’re “crazy.”
Self stigma deals a double blow: the reason for shunning treatment isn’t just fear of judgment from others, it involves a negative self view. This, in turn, will reliably worsen a disorder.
What actions can be taken to help a sufferer deal with mental health stigma?
Many suggest the best way is disclosure to friends and family, and/or being somewhat open about their disorder in general. This works to normalize it to the affected person, their loved ones, and peers. Of course it doesn’t have to spill out all at once. Opening up should be done at a pace comfortable to the individual. A patient may even wish to keep it gradual when consulting with a psychologist or psychiatrist.
Disclosure can be tricky. Risk may offset benefit if revealing mental illness would cause one to be ostracized or discriminated against. Degrees of disclosure range from complete social avoidance, to broadcasting (letting the world know and trying to educate them on the subject).
Some discreet ways for people to overcome self-stigma are in private or group sessions with a mental health professional and others also suffering the effects of stigma.
BregmanMD Medical Group is well aware of mental health stigma and we treat every patient with discretion as requested. We even offer online treatment right to your device! Simply schedule an appointment at www.bregmanmd.com or call 305-740-3340.
Resources to help fight mental health stigma:
https://www.nami.org/Find-Support/NAMI-Programs/NAMI-In-Our-Own-Voice - One of the most comprehensive resources on mental health stigma, and part of the National Alliance on Mental Illness
https://dontstigmame.com/ - Takes a blogging approach to addressing many problems caused by mental health stigma.
http://www.dhi.health.nsw.gov.au/transcultural-mental-health-centre - Offers mental health resources in a wide variety of languages.
https://www.cartercenter.org/health/mental_health/index.html - One of the main goals of this program started by First Lady Rosalynn Carter is to “reduce stigma and discrimination against those with mental illnesses.”
Corrigan, Patrick W. & Rao, Deepa (2012) On the Self-Stigma of Mental Illness: Stages, Disclosure, and Strategies for Change. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 57(8), 464-469. doi: 10.1177/070674371205700804
Davey, Graham C.L., Phd. (2013, August) Mental Health & Stigma. Psychology Today. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/why-we-worry/201308/mental-health-stigma
Nutt, Amy Ellis. (2018, June) Suicide rates rise sharply across the United States, new report shows. The Washington Post. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2018/06/07/u-s-suicide-rates-rise-sharply-across-the-country-new-report-shows/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.6c566ec0df25