Statistics and information made available by The World Health Organization show that mental health disorders are not uncommon and are widespread, yet, there are a large portion of individuals across the globe with mental health disorders who still fail to seek assistance and support due to the stigmas attached to these disorders. In her dissertation, Alice Lim, PsyD, states that “Stigma is a major barrier to mental health service utilization and treatment adherence.”
Mental health stigmas impose feelings of disgrace, shame on the individuals with these disorders and with the fear of being isolated or disgraced. Having to face judgment by others as well as being isolated by communities result in people not seeking professional assistance or support. According to Patrick W. Corrigan, PsyD, “There are many people who decide never to get treatment even though they would benefit from it. So people who want to avoid labels, avoid treatment so their neighbors don’t see them coming out.” In addition to the challenges of mental health disorders, having to endure the pressure and challenges resulting from these stigmas, while not having access to support will mean the individual will not find the balance needed to maintain good mental health, manage their disease and continue to live a happy, productive life.
What Are Stigmas?
Stigmas are nothing more than an individual’s perceptions. They impose the values and beliefs of one person or a group of people onto others who are different. Stigmas are the selective process of categorizing people and are an age old practice which creates social distances and which has been around, practiced, and has imposed isolation tactics on society for years.
Despite years of raising awareness and public education on Mental Health, these disorders are still perceived as a sign of weakness. Self-stigmatization is still one of the leading causes of people with these disorders not seeking assistance or support or in some instances, fear of isolation and ridicule by communities. People with mental disorders have to deal with the additional challenges that come with a diagnosis or a mental disorder, the challenges of the illness as well as the prejudices imposed on them by society’s perception.
The Effects of Mental Health Stigmas
Stigmas can lead to:
- Individuals denying themselves treatment and support in fear of being discriminated against. They hide their diagnosis or fail to seek assistance for symptoms, resulting in them not achieving good mental health which is the key to finding the balance to managing the effects of mental disorders.
- Not seeking professional care that can aid them in obtaining good mental health.
- Practice self-stigmatization which adds more challenges than those already presented by the disorder to have to deal with.
- The individual having to endure discrimination.
- Loss of opportunity to live a healthy and fulfilling life.
- Trouble finding work, adequate housing, and having the ability to live independently.
- Can also lead to the individual’s possibility having to face the fear of violence and isolation.
Fighting Stigma Is a War and Not a Battle
Eradicating the age old practice of stigma and discrimination will not be a task achieved in one battle. The war starts with changing the way people think. Teach people to see other humans as unique beings, not as a category or label. Look beyond what makes them different and practice tolerance. Accepting that people are different is the key to understanding and acknowledging that our differences make us unique is the first step to practicing tolerance.
How does one fight stigma
- Educate yourself about mental health disorders and arm yourself with the facts.
- Be aware of your own attitude and behavior towards other people
- Mind your words, what we say can affect others, be mindful of hurtful and derogatory words.
- Educate others and raise awareness. Participate in community projects that will teach others on fighting stigma and discrimination. “The conversation is just the first step in the process of stopping the stigma and helping those with mental illness.” according to Lindsay Sauers, PsyD.
- Show people respect and always treat others with dignity.
- Encourage people with mental disorders to seek professional help. Support them through showing understanding and acceptance without judgement.