Getting Past the Mental Illness Stigma
The stigma surrounding mental illness has come a long way in recent years. Prominent figures like actor Ryan Reynolds, musician Demi Lovato, and politicians like President Joe Biden have discussed dealing with personal and familial mental illness. While this more transparent discussion has greatly reduced mental illness stigmas, it has certainly not eliminated them.
On issues of poor mental health, former President Bill Clinton once stated that “Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all.” However, while the stigma surrounding mental illness has waned in recent years, it does still exist among certain populations of uninformed or misinformed people.
The primary problem with stigma is not that it is ignorant and can be hurtful to those to whom it is directed. The much more serious problem is that mental health stigma can dissuade struggling individuals from getting the mental health services that they need. Stigma can also compound the side effects of certain mental health disorders, making an already trying time that much more difficult.
The History of Stigma and Mental Illness
The history of stigma and mental health is not a benign one. According to an article on the stigma of mental disorders published in the scientific journal EMBO Reports, mental health stigmas have been around for longer than a millennium.
The article discusses how “Far more than any other type of illness, mental disorders are subject to negative judgments and stigmatization. For millennia, society did not treat persons suffering from depression, autism, schizophrenia, and other mental illnesses much better than… criminals: they were imprisoned, tortured, or killed.” Now, while the extremity of this type of stigma no longer exists, that does not mean that the current forms of stigma are not dangerous, detrimental, and damaging.
While it might have been true that people were not treated for their mental illnesses due to stigma, what is the difference if someone doesn’t seek treatment due to stigma? The result is the same. A person that needs help ultimately does not receive it.
The Remnants of Stigma in the 21st Century
According to statistics provided by the same article in EMBO Reports, “There is no country, society or culture where people with mental illness have the same societal value as people without a mental illness. In a survey that included respondents from 27 countries, nearly 50% of persons with schizophrenia reported discrimination in their personal relationships. Up to 2/3 of these people anticipated discrimination while applying for work or looking for a close relationship.”
That is an important aspect of mental health stigma that is often overlooked: discrimination. Whether conscious or unconscious, people tend to judge those who society still stereotypes. The stereotype of those struggling with mental illness is still quite apparent.
Society still casually utters stereotypes of mental illness that can be heard on a daily basis. Examples include referring to someone as “crazy” or “mental” or misusing a phrase like “I feel OCD today” when in fact, they are experiencing nothing of that sort. Yes, even seemingly casual verbal choices like these expound upon the problems of mental illness stigma.
The Negative Effects of Stigma on Mental Health
The negative effects of stigma are so vast that it is almost hard to categorize them. Plus, they affect everyone individually. Thus they are going to have individually negative side effects.
For example, take someone that is struggling with anxiety and depression. Their symptoms may include nervousness, loneliness, sleeplessness, self-harm, and even suicidal ideations. So what happens if they are confronted with the stigma of minimizing anxiety and depression as “normal?” They may choose not to seek help, and not getting help for something as serious as something that causes suicidal ideation can be deadly.
Let us take that same example but have the same individual face the stigma of stereotyping individuals with anxiety and depression as “abnormal.” While this can cause the same issue of avoiding help, it can also expound on an already volatile situation. It could cause an individual to experience more severe symptoms or even act out with risky behavior such as substance or alcohol misuse. Again, to belabor the point, mental health stigmas are deadly.
Reducing Stigma’s Potency
Unfortunately, reducing stigma is still not something that is going to happen overnight. It is going to take social unity and continued collective education to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health.
However, if the same trajectory continues, mental health stigma will continue to decline. Especially as more and more people open up about their struggles and more and more people are affected by them, whether individually or through friends, coworkers, or family.
If everyone does their part, the predominance of stigma and mental health can remain primarily in the previous millennium. And it all starts with reading and sharing information like the article you just read. You took the time. Help others do the same.
If you or a loved one have been struggling with your mental health, don’t wait to get help. Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. Everyone deserves to be heard, to recover, and to get the help they need. To get started on your recovery, Ccall The Phoenix Recovery Center today at (801) 438-3185 for more.