Taking the first step in admitting you have a mental health problem and need help can be difficult. The stigmas surrounding mental health can make it even harder. Mental health stigmas often lead to various forms of exclusion or discrimination at work and within your circle of family and friends.
Stigmatizing beliefs about mental health are shared by a wide range of individuals within society, regardless of if they know someone with a mental health condition. Adolescents with mental health problems may face stigmatized behaviors from family, peers, teachers, and school staff. Adults may experience stigma from friends, family, coworkers, and employers.
- People who are mentally ill are dangerous
- Mental health problems do not affect children or teens
- People can just “snap out of” depression
- Addiction is not a disease, it’s a choice and shows lack of willpower
- Individuals with mental health problems cannot recover
- Therapy is a waste of time
- It’s impossible to prevent a mental health problem
Where Do Stigmas Come From?
Stigmas associated with mental health issues come from misguided views that these individuals are “different,” from everyone else. Early beliefs about what causes mental health issues included demonic or spiritual possession, which led to caution, fear, and discrimination.
Society has stereotyped views about mental illness and how it affects people. The role of media in mental health stigmas also cannot be denied. News reports often link mental illness with violence or portray those with mental health issues as dangerous, criminal, evil, or disabled –often in television shows and movies.
The Impact of Mental Health Stigmas
A mental health stigma can be social or perceived. Social stigmas often lead to prejudice or discriminating behaviors. Perceived stigmas are internalized stigmas. A person with mental health issues may begin to perceive themselves a certain way as a result of the discrimination they endure. Perceived, or internalized, stigmas can cause feelings of shame, lead to isolation, and a distorted self-image. Internalized stigmas also make people less likely to seek out treatment and disclose their mental health condition.
Based on the Center for Disease Control’s 2012 “Attitudes Toward Mental Illness,” negative stigmas on mental illness can lead to embarrassment and fear in disclosing mental health problems, which can prevent treatment and recovery. Negative stigmas can also result in limited life opportunities, such as limited employment and housing opportunities.
Breaking Mental Health Stigmas
When it comes to mental health stigmas, knowledge is power, as is challenging these stigmas. Here are some ways to combat mental health stigmas:
- Talk openly about mental health
- Educate yourself and others about mental health
- Be conscious of your language (i.e. “that person is crazy” or “I’m so OCD”)
- Be empathetic and compassionate for those living with a mental illness
- Stand up against the way those living with mental illness are portrayed in the media
- Be an advocate for mental health reform
Mental health stigmas will not simply go away on their own. By working together, a community of advocates can change the way mental illness is perceived in society.