What is mental health stigma and why is it important?
Mental health problems are unfortunately stigmatized in our society, making it difficult for people to admit that they have an issue. Social stigmas are those attitudes and behaviors that condemn certain people or groups of people. These are usually widespread unintentional beliefs or preconceptions about people that often stem from ignorance. Stigmas often lead to discrimination, and the case of mental health problems is no exception. Those with mental health problems are treated differently than others in our society. They are teased, bullied, and excluded. This can happen in social situations, professional settings, and even within families.
Stigmas often stem from misguided thoughts and opinions of people that perpetuate themselves. Often, those that feel prejudices toward a certain group do not know much about that group—only what they’ve heard. Mental illness in our society is often associated with violence, when the vast majority of cases do not involve violent behavior at all. The common thought is that those with mental health issues are prone to violence, while the reality is that only a small number of those with mental health problems are a danger to anyone else.
Stigmas cause low self-esteem, a lack of social support, and exclusion. It is because of the common stigma against those with mental health problems that few seek mental health services. It has a detrimental effect on the treatment of mental health issues as well. In particular, internalized stigmas make the recovery process very difficult.
What can be done to combat mental health stigma?
Stigma is a societal issue. These negative feelings towards those with mental health issues are perpetuated by the media, by our peers—by nearly everyone. In order to change the views and opinions of our society, we need to educate others. The first step to changing beliefs is to address the fact that there is a problem, and explaining why it is a problem. In this case, the problem is prejudice against those with mental health problems. We as a society need to understand that people who have mental health problems are just that—people. They are human beings who have families and feelings and jobs and lives. We need to improve the attitude toward these individuals so that they are not so reluctant to seek mental health services.
It starts with individual people. If you can change one person’s mind, you’ve done your job. You often do not know who suffers from mental health issues unless they report it. You may be offending someone or stigmatizing someone without knowing it by perpetuating these negative attitudes and behaviors. Do your part to change the minds of those around you and let them know that mental health problems are not something to look down upon or shame.