Our society has come a long way in reducing the stigma around mental illness, but we still have a long way to go. Many misconceptions and stereotypes relating to mental illness still exist.
So why does it matter? Stigma can impact people’s desire to seek treatment. Stigma can cause those with mental health disorders to isolate themselves or develop negative thoughts and perceptions. It can also impact access to evidence-based treatment options.
We all can make an impact in our communities and society to reduce stigma. Read on to learn more about how to reduce self-stigma and public stigma around mental health disorders.
Why Is There Stigma Surrounding Mental Illness?
Stigma often comes from a fear, misunderstanding, or misinformation. Some portrayals in the media and on TV shows and movies don’t always get the facts right when it comes to mental illness. Nor do they provide audiences with a well-balanced view of mental illness.
Some stigma may be rooted in societies and cultures. For example, some societies used to believe presence of a mental illness was a sign of the devil. There are other beliefs that mental illness is a sign of weakness. Again, such beliefs are often due to a lack of information.
There’s also a lot of misinformation people access, and some of them share their inaccurate findings, spreading false information (and stigma) to others. No matter the reason for the stigma, it’s good for you to know how to reduce mental health stigma.
If You Have a Mental Health Disorder
Rather than letting people get information about mental illness from the wrong sources, those who have been officially diagnosed with a mental illness can talk openly about their diagnosis, if they feel comfortable. Those who hold stigmas may lack an understanding of what it means to have bipolar disorder, clinical anxiety or clinical depression.
Your own stigmas may prevent you from seeking treatment. Getting treatment is the first step. Treatment can help you recover and live a healthy, fulfilling life.
Additionally, connecting with others with mental illness helps dismantle stigma. Mental illness often has a way of making people feel isolated. Talking about your illness with others who have mental illnesses creates a sense of community and the peace of mind that comes with knowing you aren’t alone.
Also, don’t hesitate to reach out to your family and friends for emotional and mental support. Those closest to you may harbor their own secret stigmas about mental illness. Knowing someone close to them is struggling can change their minds for the better. They may even share and spread what you share with them, helping to end stigma further. If you’re hesitant to talk with your loved ones, consult your mental health counselor. They can offer advice on how to have a meaningful, open conversation.
What You Can Do
Those who may not have a mental illness can help to reduce the public stigma associated with mental illness, which in turn can help reduce self-stigma someone with a mental illness may feel.
We’ve come a long way in regards to understanding mental illness. New developments are being made in mental health treatment, and it’s good to be aware of useful, factual information regarding mental illness. More importantly, it paves the way for evidence-based therapies and treatment options. Organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness are great places to go for information.
If you know someone who has a mental illness and they are willing to share with you, listen to their story. Use it as a learning opportunity. You never know when you may have the opportunity to teach someone else.
Education is important, but there are other things you can do to help reduce stigma associated with mental illness.
- Person-first language: Rather than saying “mentally ill person” use “person with a mental illness.” Disorders should not be used as adjectives, e.g., depressed person.
- Compassion: Lend an open ear. You may not know what someone is going through.
- TV and media: If you see perpetuations of stigma on TV or on social media, speak out. You can do so in a respectful way.
- Perception: Just like we treat physical illnesses, we have to treat mental illnesses. We place importance on seeing a PCD for physical checkups, and we need to check in on our mental health too.
- Community involvement: If you feel inspired, take part in local events, work with organizations, and talk with legislators to help raise awareness about mental illness.
Mental health needs to be a priority, and it’s on all of us to make a difference.