It's reported that as many as 1 in 5 American adults live with mental illness. Ten million adults have a serious mental illness, with half of chronic mental health illnesses presenting by the time a person turns 14.
With so many Americans living with mental illness, there's a societal responsibility to accept and understand how to best help those experiencing mental health issues.
However, there are stigmas about mental health. Stigmatization can significantly impact a person's quality of life and affect their decision to seek professional help.
This article discusses some common stigmas and how to address them, working to overcome common misconceptions while living with mental health issues.
Understanding Mental Health Stigma
Stigma occurs when a person is discredited or marked in some way, diminishing them as a whole person and reducing them to a stereotype. Often, people with a collection of symptoms might be unjustly stereotyped as "psychotic."
Many people with mental illness face stigma and may experience negativity towards them. They may also be treated differently or made to feel ashamed or worthless.
Stigma also leads to discrimination which can perpetuate mental illness and cause it to worsen.
But what are some examples of mental illness stigma?
An example of stigma would be calling someone with mental illness "incompetent," "crazy," or "dangerous." These pejorative terms should always be avoided but often, they're not.
When someone with mental illness is called weak or mocked for seeking help, this is also seen as a stigma.
Stigma is any type of inaccurate stereotype. People with mental illness may be seen as more violent or posing a threat to society. People living with depression might be told to simply "snap out of it," while those living with schizophrenia may be inappropriately described as having multiple personalities.
Different Types of Stigma
There are different types of stigma to look out for. Different types of stigma may appear based on the situation and setting.
Here are some common types of stigma.
Public stigma occurs in a social situation or in public. It often occurs when a group of people believe (and vocalize) that mental health is negative, casting it as an overarching stereotype.
Self-stigma is internalized. This type of stigma occurs when a person adopts society's negative attitudes about mental health. They may also adopt the negative beliefs of their family or culture, internalizing them.
When procedures and policies affect people with mental health issues, this impacts society. This type of stigma may occur at a school, company, or within the government. An example would be the current shortage of mental health resources available to people.
A perceived stigma occurs when there's an assumption that other people view mental health in a negative way. This plays into a person's concern about how others with address them, resulting in the avoidance of mental health needs. The person affected may also fail to seek help for mental health.
Stigma by Association
This type of stigma is also called associative stigma or courtesy stigma. It occurs when someone is related to or close to a person with a mental health diagnosis. Stigma by association may prevent family members from discussing the challenges of mental health or from getting their loved ones professional help.
Label Avoidance Sitgma
Label avoidance stigma occurs when people avoid seeking support for fear of being labeled negatively or associated with a stereotype. This type of stigma is perpetuated by the general public lacking an understanding of mental health. The result may hinder a person's ability to find employment, enter healthy relationships, and more.
How to Combat Stigma
If you or someone you love is experiencing mental health issues, you don't have to handle these struggles alone. Here's how you can combat mental health stigma.
Seek Professional Support
If you or someone you love is experiencing mental health issues, seek professional help. The sooner you begin working with a trained professional, the sooner you can take steps toward learning to live with your mental health diagnosis. Your healthcare provider will explain to you various treatment options, improving your quality of life.
Avoid Negative Self-Talk
Be mindful of how you talk to yourself, even through your thoughts. Avoid self-criticizing and use positive affirmations to help change your train of thought.
Don't Isolate Yourself
Work hard to connect with other people. You should set goals to meet up with friends or loved ones at least once or twice a week. Isolation paves the way for negative thoughts, so work to interact with people as often as you're comfortable with.
You Are More Than Your Illness
Remember that you are not defined by your illness. All human beings should know their worth and speaking negatively about yourself stokes the flames. Remember that you're not broken.
You're experiencing a challenging time in your life, but it will get better. Love and accept yourself for the unique person you are.
Look for Support Groups
There are plenty of support groups available to those who experience mental health issues. You can ask your doctor for a list of recommendations or search for them online.
MentalHealth America and The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) also have a list of available support groups in your area.
Speak Out Against Stigma
Don't be afraid to speak out against stigma. If you see it happening, say something to shine a light on the negative impact it has on others.
You should feel comfortable discussing stigma with others to work to decrease its prevalence in society.
Be a Space Place for Other People
Listen to others, lending an ear when they need it. Even if you're not a trained professional, you can still show someone compassion by listening to their experiences.
Stigmas About Mental Health
Now that you understand some of the common stigmas about mental health, you can work on combating them. Remember that you are not defined by your illness and that the best way to exist with mental health issues is to speak openly about what you're experiencing.
Seek professional support and join support groups. There's help available— all you have to do is ask.
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