Stigmas are often based on perceivable differences between people. These differences can make someone view another person negatively because of personal beliefs about specific characteristics or traits. Even though these beliefs are not based on facts, they often govern how a person interacts with another and can misinform a person’s opinion of someone else. This is an especially common experience for those with mental health conditions.
Stigmas regarding mental health can exist in two categories: social stigmas and self-stigma. Social stigma refers to discrimination directed towards those who have been identified as having a mental health condition. Self-stigma is an internalized form of social stigma in which a person struggles with how their perceptions and discrimination affect them. Although they exist in different ways, they often develop from the same place and can have a profound impact on a person’s overall wellbeing.
The Danger of the Stigma Surrounding Mental Health
Stigma can cause:
- Reluctance to seek help
- A lack of understanding from friends and family
- Negative thoughts or beliefs regarding your own abilities, potential for success, and your future
- Bullying, harassment, or violence
- Difficulty in work or school
Stigmas can make people feel ashamed and reluctant to seek help. It can be direct and obvious, or unintentional, but both carry the heavy weight of pain and shame for those who struggle. Someone making a negative comment to someone with a mental illness is a more obvious sign of discrimination, but actively avoiding being around someone because you make assumptions about their behavior or character due to the presence of a mental health condition can be just as painful.
How to Challenge and Help Break the Stigma Surrounding Mental Health
Stigma can create an unsafe environment for people in which they are discriminated against and may face additional challenges. Awareness of these stigmas can make it difficult to be open about your own mental health history, which can increase the burden many already carry.
Challenging stigmas can lessen their impact and make it easier for people to seek help when needed. Some ways to address stigma directly include:
- Speak openly about it: It is not your responsibility to wear your mental health on your sleeve for others, but speaking about it can make it easier to relate to others. It can seem easier to isolate yourself from friends and family to avoid difficult conversations, but this often worsens how you feel. Being open about your mental health can make it easier to ask for help from those you have healthy relationships with when needed.
- Language matters: Equating yourself to your mental health condition can make you feel like that is all you are. For example, instead of saying you are your condition, speak about it as something you have. Using language that reduces you to being the mental health condition you have and nothing more can make it difficult to empower yourself or feel like you can be anything in spite of it.
- Join a support group: Connecting with others who share similar experiences can break down the walls that stigmas can create. By joining a support group, you are able to speak openly about topics you may not feel comfortable exploring otherwise. It provides a safe place for you to give and receive support with others who understand what you are going through. This can reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness that may exacerbate symptoms of mental health conditions.
- Call it out: While it may feel scary, speaking out when you hear stigma can make a lasting impression. If you witness or hear something that reinforces stigma, calling it out can help educate people who may not know better and also empower others to speak out as well. Spreading education on the topic of mental health can reduce stigma and help people feel more comfortable asking for help.
- Educate others: Whether you choose to use your own experiences or share facts about mental health, education can address stigmas in a profound way. Unfortunately, many stigmas are passed on by the media, misinformation, and peers. Without actively trying to understand what someone is going through or the true nature of mental health conditions, stigmas can continue to grow and worsen with time. Taking the time to educate someone and correct their misunderstandings about mental health can help them realize how their beliefs perpetuate a negative way of thinking.
- Be compassionate and empower others: Those who struggle with mental illness often experiences feelings of isolation of loneliness because of stigmas. Others’ treatment of those with mental health conditions is often based off misinformation and perpetuate feelings of isolation. Showing compassion for others and helping them empower themselves can help combat the negative effects of stigmas and reduce their impact.
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