Stigma Against People with Mental Illnesses

Let’s start here with the fact that getting help for mental illness is problematic to many people for a variety of reasons. Some just don’t have any access to it, be it for financial or geographical reasons. Most insurance plans cover treatment, but often high deductibles and out of pocket costs and a lack of participating providers often prevent access to care. There are free community and other no-cost services available, but they can be understaffed and poorly trained, or have an agenda that may be distasteful or even harmful to patients. Sometimes they even make matters worse.

Perhaps one day I will write about those issues, but for today, I want to briefly address the stigma surrounding metal illness because people this problem is preventing many who are suffering to avoid seeking treatment. They are concerned, afraid, or anxious about being treated negatively, and rightly so. Just by mentioning they are suffering with a mental illness has often resulted in the loss of jobs, destruction of professional reputations, being shunned by family and friends, or being publicly ridiculed because many people still misunderstand mental illnesses thanks to “Hollywood,” which often portray people with mental illnesses as dangerous, incompetent, unpredictable, etc.

What’s even more disturbing is that much of the time those who suffer with mental illness are blamed for their condition. While there are instances of poor personal choices causing mental problems, most mental illnesses are due to genetics, biology, traumatic life events, environmental injustices, or a combination of these and many reasons. Victim blaming is a serious problem in our societies, and mental illness is often included.

Lack of treatment will only lead to increased difficulties at home and work, a further loss of hope, a higher rate of not completing any treatment they felt comfortable seeking, a decrease in self-esteem, further problems developing relationships, increased isolation, etc.

These problems then often leads to an increase in symptoms, leading to more problems. It’s no wonder why people are reluctant to even talk about their illness, especially on social media platforms where the ‘comments section’ can be brutal.

Without proper treatment being sought due to the fear of being stigmatized and the lack of ancillary support needed not just from friends and family, but the public in general, those who suffer will often end up being forgotten or worse, being unnecessarily institutionalized.

Wendy Burch, Executive Director of NAMI’s New York State chapter said,

“As we continue to advocate for adequate resources and services to treat and support those with mental health issues, we must also address the role stigma plays in preventing people from accessing those services. The reluctance on the part of many to seek needed mental health services stems from their fear of how others will view them.”

If you are suffering with mental illness and trying to cope with stigma, being marginalized, or the victim of discrimination, the Mayo Clinic offers these steps:

  • Get treatment. You may be reluctant to admit you need treatment. Don’t let the fear of being labeled with a mental illness prevent you from seeking help. Treatment can provide relief by identifying what’s wrong and reducing symptoms that interfere with your work and personal life.
  • Don’t let stigma create self-doubt and shame. Stigma doesn’t just come from others. You may 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 about your condition and connecting with others who have mental illness can help you gain self-esteem and overcome destructive 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 if they know about your mental illness. Reach out to people you trust for the compassion, support and understanding you need.
  • 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), offer local programs and internet resources that help reduce stigma by educating people who have mental illness, their families and the general public. Some state and federal agencies and programs, such as those that focus on vocational rehabilitation and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), offer support for people with mental illness.
  • Get help at school. If you or your child has a mental illness that affects learning, find out what plans and programs might help. Discrimination against students because of a mental illness is against the law, and educators at primary, secondary and college levels are required to accommodate students as best they can. Talk to teachers, professors or administrators about the best approach and resources. If a teacher doesn’t know about a student’s disability, it can lead to discrimination, barriers to learning and poor grades.
  • Speak out against stigma. Consider expressing your opinions at events, in letters to the editor or on the internet. It can help instill courage in others facing similar challenges and educate the public about mental illness.

If you find yourself poking fun at those suffering with mental illnesses, please just stop. It is not a laughing matter. You might as well be making fun of someone who had a heart attack, stroke, or other physical illness, or disability. Instead, make an effort to learn more. Here’s a good place to start:

Please follow and like

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.