The majority of people living with mental illness have been blamed for their condition at some point. They’ve been called derogatory terms, considered “just dramatic,” or dismissed as something they will “grow out of.” Beyond name-calling, people are also illegally discriminated against, often without recourse for justice. This is the untenable power stigma holds.
The mental health community must raise our voices against stigma and stand up to it in every possible way. If you’re unsure how, let’s unpack it further by answering what mental health stigma is, how it leads to self-stigmatization, and how you can combat it starting today.
What is Mental Health Stigma?
Stigma associated with mental illness refers to the negative attitudes, beliefs, and stereotypes surrounding individuals who experience mental health issues. It is a societal phenomenon that leads to discrimination, marginalization, and the mistreatment of people with mental health conditions.
There are several contributing factors to the stigma surrounding mental illness. Lack of awareness and understanding about mental health conditions easily perpetuates misconceptions and stereotypes. Media portrayals that sensationalize or inaccurately depict mental illnesses also play an unhelpful role in reinforcing stigma. Further, fear, ignorance, and the tendency to associate mental health issues with violence or weakness also contribute to stigmatizing attitudes.
The consequences of mental health stigma are significant. People who experience stigma may be reluctant to seek help, leading to delayed or inadequate treatment. This can exacerbate their condition and hinder their recovery. Stigma also affects individuals’ relationships, employment prospects, and overall quality of life.
It’s important to understand that stigmatization goes beyond simply being treated differently or feeling left out. It leads to tangible adverse effects, such as:
- Unwillingness to seek assistance or treatment.
- Bullying, physical violence, or harassment.
- Lack of understanding from family, friends, coworkers, or others.
- Health insurance that does not cover mental illness treatment.
- Limited access to healthcare.
- A belief that those with mental illness will never succeed at specific tasks or that they will never be able to improve their situation.
- Limited opportunities for employment, education, socializing, or difficulty finding housing.
- Diminished self-esteem.
Efforts to combat mental health stigma involve education, advocacy, and promoting open dialogue about mental health. Raising awareness and providing accurate information about mental illnesses can help dispel myths and challenge negative attitudes. In addition, encouraging empathy, compassion, and understanding can create a more inclusive and supportive environment for individuals with mental health conditions.
It is essential to recognize that mental health conditions are common and treatable and should be approached with the same empathy and support as physical health conditions. By working together to eliminate stigma, we can create a society that values and supports the mental well-being of all its members.
What is Self-Stigmatization?
The effects of stigma aren’t exclusive to others’ behaviors. For example, those with mental illness often judge themselves harshly because of societal stigma.
Self-stigmatization, also known as internalized stigma or self-stigma, occurs when individuals internalize and believe the negative stereotypes, attitudes, and beliefs associated with mental illness or other stigmatized identities. Think of it this way—if you receive negative messages about yourself or your mental illness for long enough from enough sources, it’s natural to begin to adopt and apply society’s negative perceptions to yourself.
When individuals experience self-stigmatization, they may begin to believe they are flawed, weak, or inferior because of their mental health condition. In addition, they may internalize the societal messages that mental illness is something to be ashamed of or that seeking help is a sign of weakness. This can lead to feelings of guilt, low self-esteem, and self-blame.
Self-stigmatization can have significant impacts on a person’s well-being and mental health. Self-stigmatization often leads to further deteriorated mental health. It prevents individuals from seeking help, adhering to treatment, or disclosing their condition to others due to fear of judgment or rejection. It can also contribute to social withdrawal, isolation, and reduced quality of life.
Overcoming self-stigma is a crucial part of recovery and treatment. Building self-awareness, challenging negative beliefs, and developing self-compassion are key steps in combating self-stigmatization.
Ways to Fight Mental Health Stigma
Coping with mental health stigma can be challenging, but there are strategies you can use to navigate and address it. Here are some ways to cope with mental health stigma:
- Education and Awareness. Become educated about mental health conditions and the common myths and misconceptions surrounding them. By understanding the facts, you can challenge stigmatizing beliefs and correct misinformation when it arises.
- Seek Support. Connect with supportive individuals who understand and empathize. This can be done through support groups, therapy, or online communities. Being surrounded by people knowledgeable about mental health can counteract the negative impact of stigma.
- Self-acceptance and Selfcare. Teach your children to practice self-compassion and acceptance of their mental health condition. Engage in self-care activities that promote well-being, such as exercise, mindfulness, hobbies, and spending time with loved ones.
- Open Communication. Encourage your teen to share experiences with trusted friends, family members, or professionals who can offer support. By opening up, they may find others more understanding and accepting than they initially anticipated.
- Advocacy and Activism. Engage in mental health advocacy to raise awareness, challenge stereotypes, and fight stigma. Share stories, participate in campaigns, or volunteer for organizations working in the mental health field. You and your child can help shape public opinion and promote positive change by becoming advocates.
- Focus on Strengths and Accomplishments. Shift your teen’s focus towards their strengths, achievements, and personal growth instead of dwelling on the stigma. Celebrate successes, no matter how small, and remind your teen of their resilience.
- Professional Help. If your child faces significant mental health challenges, do not hesitate to seek professional help.
It is essential to recognize that stigmatization of mental health conditions results from societal attitudes and is not a personal failing of the person suffering. By challenging and changing the broader stigmatizing narratives surrounding mental health, we can create a more inclusive and supportive environment that helps individuals overcome self-stigma and embrace their mental health with acceptance and resilience.
To learn more about mental health disorders or to seek the help of a mental health professional, do not hesitate to call Turnbridge. Turnbridge is a recognized mental health treatment provider with inpatient and outpatient programs for young men and women. Call 877-581-1793 to speak with a treatment specialist today.