The State of the Stigma of Mental Illness
Over 43.8 million Americans face some sort of mental health problem each year. According to the National Alliance of Mental Health, mental health conditions “[affect] a person’s thinking, feeling, or mood.” Unfortunately, there is an ongoing mental illness stigma that faces individuals and their family members, standing as a barrier to public health progress and social change.
On a positive note, there have been substantial strides forward over the years to bring awareness to mental health issues, and mental health professionals, communities, and individuals who recognize the importance of this mission continue to push to find the best ways to treat these diseases and stamp out negative attitudes toward the mentally ill.
What is a Stigma?
According to the Mayo Clinic, a stigma involves negative stereotypes based on a distinguishable “characteristic or personal trait, that’s thought to be, or actually is, a disadvantage.”
Unlike a physical illness, in the case of mental illness, especially with addiction, there can be a misconception that it is the sufferer is somehow at fault—that the illness is within their control—or that it is a sign of weakness. It is critical to understand that mental illness and addiction are brain disorders caused by any number of factors including a chemical imbalance, genetics, psychological trauma, and/or environmental factors. They cannot be overcome by sheer willpower or by “toughening up.”
Harmful Effects of Stigmas
A stigma can be harmful to an individual who is dealing with a mental disorder/addiction. Many people with mental health issues may feel embarrassed or shameful to communicate with others because of the fear of being judged or viewed differently. If you know someone who is struggling with a mental illness or substance abuse, make sure they know they have your support you’re there to help.
Some of the harmful effects of stigmas include:
- Reluctance to seek help or treatment
- Lack of understanding by family, friends, co-workers or others
- Fewer opportunities for work, school or social activities, or trouble finding housing
- Bullying, physical violence, or harassment
- Health insurance that doesn’t adequately cover your mental illness treatment
- Low self-esteem; the belief that you’ll never succeed at certain challenges or that you can’t improve your situation
When dealing with a mental illness, it is important to never deal with it alone. Find someone you can trust and seek professional advice. Dealing with a mental health illness can be quite challenging; however, it is important to realize that self-care is essential. There are several ways to overcome the stigmas of mental health in a positive environment that can help the healing process.
Steps to Combat the Stigma
The only way to end the mental health stigma is to empower ourselves and others to get informed, seek help when needed, and encourage open-mindedness. Here are some steps to overcoming the stigma of mental illness.
- Get treatment. You may be reluctant to admit you need treatment, but don’t let the fear of being labeled with a mental illness prevent you from seeking help. You can reach out to someone you already have a relationship/trust with, such as a primary care physician.
- Don’t let stigma create self-doubt and shame. Stigma doesn’t just come from others. You may start to believe the stigma yourself (self-stigma) and mistakenly believe that your condition is a sign of personal weakness or that you should be able to control it without help. Seeking counseling, educating yourself is a way to defeat self-judgment.
- Don’t isolate yourself. If you have a mental illness, you may be reluctant to tell anyone about it. Your family, friends, clergy, or members of your community can offer you support.
- Don’t equate yourself with your illness. You are not an illness. So instead of saying “I’m bipolar,” say “I have bipolar disorder.” Instead of calling yourself “a schizophrenic,” say “I have schizophrenia.”
- Join a support group. Some local and national groups, such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (nami.org), offer local programs and internet resources that help reduce stigma by educating people who have a mental illness, their families, and the general public.
- Get help at school. If your child has a mental illness that affects learning, find out what plans and programs might help.
- Speak out against stigma/volunteer/engage in anti-stigma initiatives. It can help instill courage in others facing similar challenges and educate the public about mental illness.
Walk to End the Stigma
At Carrier Clinic, we value our patients and members of the community. Mental illness is a disease and needs to be treated appropriately by a healthcare professional. As in years past, this year Carrier Clinic, an NJ psychiatric hospital and recovery center, will be sharing an event with the community called our “Walk of Hope” on September 15, 2018. This event will take place on Carrier Clinic’s main campus from 9 AM to 12 PM. All are welcome to join, learn vital information, and meet our local vendors. We believe stigmas can be broken and can be the building blocks of a new foundation for building hope for individuals with a mental health illness.