Letting Go of Stigma Surrounding Mental Health

Mental Health     

            Mental Illness

                           Depression     Anxiety     Bipolar Disorder   

Schizophrenia    PTSD

By: Marsha Weiner, LICSW, Manager of Behavioral Health Services, Signature Healthcare

How many times have you heard these terms (above) perhaps related to something you have seen on the news?  Your first thought might be, “Oh that person must have a mental illness or they are bipolar”. Jumping to those conclusions is what makes up so much of the stigma and discrimination related to mental health issues. This happens all the time. I can’t remember ever hearing, “Oh that person must have diabetes or COPD.” This topic has many layers, and this blog post will just touch the surface of how mental health stigma is manifested and affects so many people.

What is stigma?

According to Better Health:

  • Stigma is when someone sees you in a negative way because of your mental illness. Discrimination is when someone treats you in a negative way because of your mental illness.

The effects of being stigmatized for one’s mental health can have dire consequences:

  • Feeling ashamed and hopeless leads to more depression
  • Reluctance to reach out for help.
  • Others do not understand or take the time to educate themselves.
  • Feeling and being judged.
  • Isolation, self-doubt, self-hatred.
  • Bullying and harassment.

According to  https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/stigma-and-discrimination, there are different types of stereotypes and prejudices:

 PublicSelfInstitutional
Stereotypes & PrejudicesPeople with mental illness are dangerous, incompetent, to blame for their disorder, unpredictableI am dangerous, incompetent, worthy of blameStereotypes are embodied in laws and other institutions
DiscriminationTherefore, employers may not hire them, landlords may not rent to them, the health care system may offer a lower standard of careThese thoughts lead to lowered self-esteem and self-efficacy: “Why try? Someone like me is not worthy of good health.”Intended and unintended loss of opportunity

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), mental illness is among the most common health conditions in the United States.

More than 50% of U.S. adults will need mental health treatment at some point during their lifetime. In addition, 1 in 25 are currently living with a serious mental illness, such as an eating disorder, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or major depression.

A national survey estimates that 11.2% of all U.S. adults report regularly feeling some form of worry, nervousness, or anxiety, while 4.7% report frequently experiencing sadness or symptoms of depression. These statistics should be an eye-opener for anyone that is not familiar with mental health and those that struggle with these issues. 

As a social worker/therapist, I see firsthand how stigma affects individual and their families, and friends.

The negative self-talk and shame make it so difficult for those suffering to reach out. 

I have also seen how difficult it is for those seeking assistance who run into so many roadblocks.

  • Insurance issues
  • Wait times to see a provider
  • Providers/agencies not returning phone calls ( this does so many such a disservice).  Once someone has the courage to reach out, they should be assisted right away to prevent the person from backing away.
  • Clients having negative experiences with their therapist

What can be done to reduce the stigma?

  • Everyone deserves to get help if needed.  It takes a lot to be able to reach out and let others know that you are trying to cope.   
  • If the stigma of struggling with mental health issues could be reduced, the conversation would look so different. People would not have to suffer in silence while trying to muster the courage to make a phone call or talk to someone.
  • Do not be afraid to let others know that you have sought help.
  • Reach out to people you trust who can help support you. 
  • You may be surprised by how your sharing can help other people open up about their own challenges.
  • Consider joining a support group. It can be normalizing to talk with others who have the same experiences.
  • Work on acceptance of a mental health diagnosis, trying not to include negativity about oneself and the diagnosis.  The names/titles given to the diagnosis are not what or who you are, it is a diagnosis that you have, and you can find help to work through it, develop coping skills, etc. For example, instead of saying “I am bipolar”, say “I have bipolar” or “I live with bipolar”.
  • Educate yourself on mental health topics. Learn the facts about mental illness. You can develop understanding and compassion for yourself and educate others.
  • Be mindful that others are not always educated and understand the impact that a mental health diagnosis can impact someone’s life. 
  • Educating others will hopefully open their eyes to the reality of the situation and allow for better acceptance and understanding, rather than judgment.

We may not be able to end the stigma and bias of mental health, but unless we have a voice and speak up, nothing will change. We all have the opportunity to educate ourselves and others about mental health and its effect on individuals and society. Allow those struggling to be able to talk about the effects on their daily life, and their impact on those around them, with respect and no judgment. 

Resources and References:

https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/january-2019/self-help-techniques-for-coping-with-mental-illness

https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline

https://www.mentalhealth.gov/

https://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/tools-resources/individuals/index.htm


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