September is Suicide Prevention Month, and there’s no better time to address one of the most persistent obstacles in mental health awareness: stigma. Stigma around mental health not only hampers understanding but also prevents many from seeking the help they need.
What is Stigma?
Stigma is a mark of disgrace or discredit that sets an individual or group apart from others. In the context of mental health, stigma often emerges from misconceptions, prejudices, or negative judgments about those with mental health challenges.
Stigma manifests in many ways:
- Stereotyping: Assuming that everyone with a certain mental health condition behaves the same way.
- Negative Labels: Using derogatory language or terms when referring to people with mental health conditions.
- Avoidance: Avoiding someone because they have a mental health condition.
- Blame: Believing that mental health conditions are a result of a lack of willpower or moral weakness.
The Role of Stigma in Mental Health Outcomes
Stigma can have devastating effects:
- Hesitation to Seek Help: People may delay or avoid seeking treatment.
- Reduced Social Support: They might isolate from family and friends, further worsening symptoms.
- Fewer Opportunities: Stigma can result in reduced opportunities for work, housing, or social activities.
- Internalized Stigma: People may begin to believe the negative things others say about them.
Unconscious Contribution to Stigma
Without realizing it, many of us might be perpetuating stigma:
- Language: Using terms like “crazy” or “psycho” perpetuates negative stereotypes.
- Silence: Not discussing mental health openly can imply it’s something to be ashamed of.
- Making Light: Joking about mental health can minimize the challenges individuals face.
In the realm of media, accurate depictions of mental health have often been overshadowed by misleading and sensationalized portrayals, such as the “madman” trope seen in films like “Psycho”. Individuals with mental health struggles are frequently portrayed as dangerous, which can be very damaging and misleading. Recently, there has been a shift towards progress and films like “Silver Linings Playbook” stand out for a more nuanced, sensitive, and authentic representation that helps to challenge long-standing stereotypes.
By the Numbers
- Nearly 1 in 5 US adults live with a mental illness, ranging from mild to severe (NIMH, 2019).
- Over 60% of those with a mental illness didn’t receive mental health services in the previous year (SAMHSA, 2018).
- Stigma is identified as one of the leading reasons people don’t seek help.
It’s crucial to recognize that mental health is a shared human experience. Instead of allowing emotional challenges like depression, anxiety, or trauma to shape our perception of someone’s character, we should understand it as a spectrum. At various moments in our lives, any one of us might find ourselves anywhere on that spectrum. Emotions, in their vast complexity, are neither purely good nor purely bad. We are not solely defined by these conditions, but rather by our holistic human experience.
Take the Pledge: Combating Stigma
- Educate Yourself: Understand mental health conditions and the realities of living with them.
- Watch Your Language: Speak about mental health with compassion and accuracy.
- Listen Actively: If someone talks to you about their experience, listen without judgment.
- Raise Awareness: Share accurate information about mental health on social media, in your workplace, and within your community.
- Challenge Stigmatizing Views: If someone makes an inappropriate joke or comment, address it.
Actions to take:
- Foster open conversations about mental health with family members.
In the Workplace
- Advocate for mental health resources and training in your organization.
In Your Community
- Attend or organize events that promote mental health awareness.
- Promote Authenticity: Showcase the realities of living with a mental health condition. Remember, it’s not always about dramatic moments; everyday challenges can resonate deeply.
- Engage with Accurate Information: Share articles, infographics, videos, and other content from reputable sources to combat myths and misconceptions.
- Challenge Harmful Narratives: If you come across a post or comment that perpetuates stigma, engage respectfully to educate and correct. Remember, the goal is to inform, not to attack.
Together, we can break the chains of stigma and create an environment where everyone feels supported and understood.