How To Fight Stigma Of Mental Illness

How To Fight Stigma Of Mental Illness

Cherokee Farmer, reporter

When someone is hurt or has an illness such as cancer, there is no stigma attached to the disease.  But with mental illness, this is not so.  However, if some is struggling with internal pain, has loneliness, depression, anxiety, isolation, or hopelessness, or someone perceives others are judging them due to their mental illness, many people hesitate to ask for help in the same way they would for a physical injury.  Many people with mental illness hide it and go to great lengths to conceal it because of the stigma associated with having a mental illness.

Unfortunately, this is the case for many who suffer from a mental illness, such as anxiety, PTSD, depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder or schizophrenia. There are many reasons people keep their feelings quiet and don’t ask for help. Some examples are when people worry about what others may think of them or worry, they will be judged by their mental illness, or struggle with unhelpful thoughts such as “asking for help is a weakness.” Perhaps people believe seeking help shows there is something wrong with them. Messages people receive from others, the media, their culture, society, and from themselves often cause much worry and anxiety and can hinder recovery and seeking help.

The reality is the stigma of mental illness is very real. There are negative attitudes and beliefs toward people who have a mental illness. This may lead some people to treat others differently simply because of their mental illness or struggles. The ugly truth of stigma is that it causes harmful (and at times long-term) effects to the persons suffering with a mental illness, along with their supportive persons and loved ones.

Stigma or the fear of stigma may deter someone from seeking help and treatment for their mental illness. It can also cause a lack of understanding by family and friends about what the person is going through, it may hinder relationships, or even make it difficult for people to find work and keep a job.

Judgment from others almost always stems from a lack of knowledge and understanding. Learning to accept one’s condition, and recognizing the steps one needs to take to treat it, can help the person struggling to overcome the harmful effects of stigma in their own life.

Here are some ways to help overcome the stigma:

Seek treatment- get treatment for your condition or encourage those struggling to do so. Just like if you broke your leg or got sick, you’d schedule an appointment with your doctor to get better, don’t let the fear of being labeled with mental illness stop you or your loved ones from getting help.

Don’t buy into the stigma- You may believe that mental illness is a sign of weakness and that you or the person struggling should be able to control it without help. You may treat yourself or others harshly because of these perceptions. Seeking counseling, education, being kind to one’s self and others, and finding support from others with mental illness can help gain positive self-esteem, perspective, and overcome destructive judgment.

Educate yourself and others-Knowledge is power. Educate yourself (from reputable sources) about mental illness, symptoms and treatments. Being informed is the first step in getting the proper treatment one needs for emotional wellness.

Choose your words carefully-Instead of saying, “I’m bipolar,” you may move toward saying, “I have bipolar disorder” or “I struggle with mental illness,” or “I was diagnosed with PTSD,” or “My brother struggles with depression.” This will help separate the person from the illness. No one is an illness.

Join a support group-Don’t isolate. If people don’t tell anyone about their struggles with mental illness, no one can help them. There are many local and national support groups that offer programs and resources. In addition, these groups are working hard to educate people with mental illnesses, their families, their supportive persons and their communities to help reduce stigma and move toward empowerment and recovery.

Choose empowerment over shame-If you are struggling, honor and own your story, and don’t allow others to change your mind. Encourage those seeking support, and honor their story and struggles, and be encouraging. Be honest with the people around you. Show them who you really are by sharing your strengths, talents and goals. Encourage those struggling to do the same.  Remember, the way you act and treat others can help influence people’s attitudes toward you and mental illness in general. Be kind to yourself and others in this process. Acceptance is difficult and takes time.

Speak up against stigma-
Whether it’s with a group of friends or in front of a large audience, express your opinions in an assertive and confident manner. Educate others respectfully about mental illness, to help promote change. Remind people that they wouldn’t make fun of someone suffering from heart disease, diabetes or cancer. Making fun of someone with mental illness is harmful, and only increases stigma, and promotes discrimination.

Thanks to for the information.