Throughout history, mental illness has been greatly stigmatized in societies around the globe. It was even believed to be a mark of the devil, considered a moral punishment, and what not. Although the awareness about mental disorders has come along away over the past decades, research shows that the stigma surrounding mental illness is still widespread in our society. This is, to an extent, due to media stereotypes and lack of education. Most people tend to attach negative stigmas to mental health conditions without even completely understanding what it is and how dangerous its effects can be. People living with mental illness have to undoubtedly face two challenges; Not only do they struggle with the symptoms and disabilities of the disease but they are also challenged by the stereotypes and prejudice that take root from misconceptions about mental illness. As a result, the opportunity of living a normal life is robbed from these people. They are treated differently, they’ve been called names, their symptoms have been referred to as “a phase” and not given as much importance as other diseases and disabilities, such as cancer or diabetes. Even now, despite all the advances in psychiatry and psychology, anyone dealing with mental illness can tell you, a great deal of stigma remains. This stigma can cause people to feel hopeless, ashamed and afraid of being judged negatively. It prevents people from seeking the help they need. Certainly the stigma has reduced in recent years, but it still lacks the pace that is required for people to come out freely and accept that they need help without being scared of what others might think.
Types of Stigma
There are mainly two types of stigma: Social stigma and Self-Stigma.
Social stigma, or public stigma, is the negative stereotypes faced by those with mental health issues. These stereotypes seem to be widely endorsed by the general public who use these to define the person, discriminate them, and prevent them from living a normal life. While it may seem that our society has accepted the medical nature of this condition and the need for treatment, an astonishing number of people still have a negative view of those with mental illness. For example, it is often seen that “normal” people tend to avoid those suffering from the illness, no matter how close they once were. People with mental health problems may even find it harder to get a house or a decent job. They are forced into isolation, which results in worsening their condition.
Self-perceived stigma involves an internal battle the person with the mental illness faces. Due to the social stigma, individuals suffering from mental disorders often have low self-esteem, lack of hope, doubt, and fear of being misjudged. Perceived stigma often comes along with internalized shame about having a mental illness, it makes people recluse, blame themselves for something they have no control over, be embarrassed to speak of what they are going through, and show reluctance to seek help to get the required treatment. This can also lead to suicidal thoughts and self-harm.
Effects of the Stigma
Both stigmas have great impact on the lives of people with mental illness and their families as well. It affects them to an extent that they would prefer suicide over the mental trauma they have to face each and every day. It can be painful for them to explain what they are experiencing and still not be understood. This fear of rejection may lead to isolation and shame. Stigma can also take form of harassment, bullying, and even violence.
Out of the ten people diagnosed with mental disorders, almost 9 of them say that stigma and discrimination have negative impacts on their lives. The situation is made worse by the media, who often link mental illness with violence, portraying people with mental health problems as dangerous, criminal, evil, or unable to live normal lives. Studies show that a great way to challenge this stigma is through education and awareness about mental illness. Many national and local campaigns are trying to change public attitudes toward mental illness.
Here are some of the ways we can play a part in helping eliminate the existing stigma of mental illness:
- Know the Facts- Educate yourself about mental disorders, its effects, its treatment, etc. You must keep in mind that each person faces different battles to overcome this illness.
- Choose Your Words Carefully- We may often say things without giving it a second thought. But word do matter, especially to those who are sensitive. So choose your words wisely.
- Support People- Don’t let the social stigma get to you; treat everyone equally, support and encourage those who need you at their weakest moment.
- Treat Mental Pain Like You Would Physical Pain- Making mental health less important than physical health may hurt those suffering from it, often delaying treatment and recovery. Know that mental illness is real and its effects are just as painful.
- Educate others- Talk openly about mental health; share your knowledge, encourage positive attitude and challenge the stigma surrounding mental illness.
Reasons to why people develop mental illness may be many; some are genetic while some result from childhood trauma, and some stem from environmental injustice. We never really know what triggers it for them. But as a society, we must do our best to help them win this battle. We must raise our voices against the stigma and eliminate it once and for all.