“Think about the last time you heard someone say, “Oh, I don’t need to talk to a therapist, I’m not crazy,” or “Are you insane? Why would you do that?” Both are examples of the stigma surrounding mental health.
Stigmas have the power to make people feel guilty about things that are out of their control, like a mental illness. For people who are struggling with their mental health, the judgment and negativity they feel from friends, family, and coworkers can often keep them from seeking treatment.
Despite the strides that have been made in recent years regarding mental health awareness, there is still a strong stigma attached to mental illness because of how it has been approached in the past. Our understanding of mental health has evolved drastically, but the harmful belief that people with mental illnesses are “different” from everyone else still exists today. An effective step toward taking down stigma is being able to identify it in your own life. Here are some ways you can learn how to spot mental health stigma and speak up to show your support.
Types of Stigma
When it comes to mental health, there are two types of damaging stigma that can prevent people from getting help.
Social Stigma: the prejudiced attitudes and discriminating behaviors that a group of people directs towards mental illness.
Self-Stigma: when people with mental illnesses agree with the stereotypes surrounding mental illness and apply those negative beliefs to themselves.
How Does Stigma Affect Mental Health?
Problems with mental health are treated very differently than problems with physical health, oftentimes because they cannot be seen and there is no standard recovery time. Symptoms are sometimes referred to as “just a phase” and people are blamed for their conditions but mental illness can be attributed to a variety of factors like genetics, life experiences, and physical injuries.
A lack of education is one of the main reasons why people stigmatize mental health. Stereotypes and misrepresentations in the media can make people fearful of others who are struggling with mental illnesses. Most of the time, people with mental health problems are believed to be dangerous or violent but the reality is that they are more at risk of being attacked or harming themselves than other people. Along with impacting a person’s self-esteem, the social stigma and self-stigma surrounding mental health can make it difficult to maintain relationships, find stable housing, secure job opportunities, and get treatment.
Mental Health is for Everyone
One in five people will experience a mental illness in their lifetime, but everyone will face challenges to their mental health which means that mental health is everyone’s concern.
Most people who experience a mental health problem are able to recover fully or learn to manage their symptoms. However, with a compassionate approach toward mental health and more widespread education, this process can be easier and people can get help earlier on. Here’s how you can identify stigma, challenge stereotypes, and change the way mental health is perceived in society.
- Get treatment – if you are dealing with a mental health problem, don’t let the fear of being labeled stop you from getting help. If you aren’t ready to talk to someone yet, consider taking a free, private, online mental health screening from Mental Health America.
- Talk openly about mental health – whether you speak to a friend, family member, or coworker, having discussions about mental health helps to normalize the topic and makes others feel more comfortable discussing their own mental health needs. Celebrities like Demi Lovato, Jon Hamm, Kristen Bell have openly addressed their struggles with mental health, showing that anyone can be affected while demonstrating that it’s a sign of strength to ask for help.
- Encourage health equality – you wouldn’t make fun of someone with a physical disease like cancer, so treat mental diseases with the same respect. If someone opens up to you about their mental health be supportive and encourage them to get help.
- Be conscious of your language – your words have power. Avoid using language that puts illness first (bipolar person) and instead choose person-first language (person with a bipolar disorder).
- Speak out – when you hear someone making negative comments about mental health, speak up. This can include writing letters to your representatives, calling out stereotypes on television, or even pointing it out to a friend when they make a harmful comment.
- Learn the facts – educate those around you so you can spread awareness and knowledge with accurate information.
When it comes to taking down stigmas, knowledge and compassion are some of the most powerful tools you can use. May is Mental Health Month, which means this is the perfect time to get involved, become an advocate, and empower others to embrace mental health. By working together, we can shift the way mental illness is perceived and make sure that mental health care is readily accessible to everyone.
If you are in a crisis, please call us at 303-425-0300 or by calling the crisis line at 844-493-8255. The 24/7 crisis walk-in center and withdrawal management program is open at 4643 Wadsworth Blvd, Wheat Ridge, CO 80033.