Mental Health Stigma

The Damaging Impact of Stigma Toward Mental Illness

On any given day, tens of millions of Americans must deal with some form of mental illness. These people come from all walks of life. They are also affected in different ways by different conditions. Unfortunately, all of them share one thing in common: the chance of being stigmatized for their condition. Mental health stigma is common and widespread. This stigma is not just a theoretical issue. Instead, it comes with a variety of serious, real-world consequences.

For many people, those consequences include reduced odds of getting the help they need to recover. The more aware you are of mental health stigma, the greater your chances of overcoming it. You also have the opportunity to help change society’s attitudes toward mental health issues.

What Is Meant By Stigma

What does it mean to stigmatize something? Experts define stigmas as negative beliefs about a group of people, a culture, or an entire society. These beliefs are applied to the whole without any further consideration. There is also little thought given to the accuracy of such beliefs.

Stigma can operate on three separate levels:

  • The public level
  • The institutional level
  • The personal level, or the level of the self

Public stigma refers to the attitudes held by other people or groups of people. Institutional stigma refers to the ways in which the system or specific institutions help support those attitudes. Personal or self-stigma occurs in stigmatized people. It is basically an internal acceptance of the negative judgments created at the public or institutional levels.

Stigma can alter the functions of society in several important ways. One common effect is the creation of stereotypes about a specific group of people. Along with these stereotypes come prejudices against anyone who belongs to that group.

Additional problems can occur if a society’s institutions validate a stigma. A common result of this process is the creation of discriminatory laws. Laws such as these can interfere with a stigmatized group’s ability to do such basic things as:

  • Hold jobs
  • Rent a place to live
  • Get adequate health care

The Stigma Surrounding Mental Health and Mental Illness

Mental health stigma

Mental health issues have been stigmatized throughout the history of humanity. Much of this stigma dates back to a time when mental illness was poorly understood. No one really knew such things as:

  • How it happens
  • Why it happens
  • Who is most likely to be affected
  • The ways in which it can be treated

This lack of understanding has generated tremendous fear down through the centuries. However, today much more is known about mental health conditions. And each year brings even greater amounts of knowledge about everything from causes to effective treatments. Still, public, institutional and personal beliefs do not always yield easily to these kinds of changes. This fact helps explain why mental health stigma is still a major issue around the world.

Examples of Mental Health Stigmas

Stigma-based stereotypes regarding mental illness are still common in much of society. These stereotypes include beliefs that affected people:

  • Are unusually dangerous
  • Lack the ability to be productive and self-sufficient
  • Cannot be trusted
  • Are entirely responsible for their illness and situation

Attitudes like these do not only occur in people unaffected by mental illness. They also occur in many of the millions of people living with mental health conditions.

Mental Health Discrimination

In the past, legalized mental health discrimination was often an accepted part of life. That situation has largely changed in recent decades. However, individuals, businesses, and institutions may sometimes act in discriminatory ways, even when this is illegal.

The Effects of Mental Health Stigma

The effects of mental health stigma can be felt in a multitude of ways. Without a doubt, stigma helps explain why fewer than 50% of all Americans with a mental illness receive proper treatment. This figure is influenced by the significant number of people who are hesitant to reveal that they have an illness.

The vast range of additional personal, social and institutional effects includes:

  • Mental illnesses with more severe symptoms
  • Reduced belief in the possibility of mental health recovery
  • Decreased odds of completing treatment once you start
  • Problems caused by lack of understanding about mental illness
  • A lack of self-belief
  • Episodes of harassment, bullying or outright violence
  • Health insurance plans that lack sufficient mental health coverage
  • Isolation from the larger society
  • Reduced life opportunities

Steps to Cope With Stigma

You can take a variety of actions to cope with mental health stigma. One crucial step is seeking proper treatment if you are affected by mental illness. This will not only allow you to get the help you need. It will also help break the stigma regarding treatment. Other important coping steps include:

  • Staying socially engaged
  • Not making your illness the focus of your self-identity
  • Seeking help to overcome any self-stigma affecting you

The Importance of Peer Support Groups

Mental health stigma

Peer support groups allow you to share your experiences with mental illness. In this way, they provide excellent resources for effective coping. There is a good chance you will find groups operating locally or regionally in your area. You can also seek help from nationwide organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Speaking Out to Prevent Stigma

Taking action to help prevent stigma is another powerful coping tool. You have multiple options for making your views known, including:

  • Social media campaigns
  • In-person rallies or events
  • Letter-writing campaigns
  • Lobbying of public officials

Compassion as a Cure for Stigmatizing Mental Illness

At their core, all stigmas rely in part on a lack of compassion. When a certain group is designated as the “other,” it becomes much easier to treat its members unkindly. The situation changes when you erase the line between self and others.

There is a very good chance that someone you know is affected by mental illness. That includes family members or other loved ones. It may seem natural to act compassionately toward people you know so well. But people you do not know at all are dealing with the exact same kinds of issues. By treating them with the same degree of compassion, you help make mental health stigma a thing of the past.

Mental Illness Terms to Avoid

As part of your desire to act compassionately, it helps to avoid certain stigmatizing mental illness terms. For example, stay away from terms that make an illness a person’s sole identity. That includes referring to someone as bipolar, schizophrenic, etc. Instead, use terms that put illness in context. For example, you might say, “She has bipolar disorder.”

Calling someone mentally ill can also be problematic. Why? This term lacks any details or specifics. As such, it can easily be used to stigmatize someone. Use specific wording, instead, such as, “He has schizophrenia.” This is not only more clear. It also helps break the stigma of talking directly about mental illness.

Laws to Prevent Mental Health Discrimination

Today, a number of federal laws help prevent mental health discrimination. This protection is available because mental illness is legally classified as a form of disability. (Do not let this term become its own form of stigma. Millions of people with disabilities help form the backbone of our society.) The specific laws that apply include:

  • The Americans With Disabilities Act
  • The Rehabilitation Act of 1973
  • The Individuals With Disabilities Education Act
  •  The Fair Housing Act

Unfortunately, these laws do not provide blanket support. In addition, they are not always effective. Current legal protections have not stopped people with mental illnesses from experiencing discrimination in:

  • Available health care coverage
  • The job market
  • The housing market

Along with lack of treatment, these problems help explain another fact. Namely, incarceration rates for people affected by mental illness are much higher than for society as a whole.

Getting Judgment-Free Treatment for Mental Illness at Emerald Isle

Judgment-free treatment is crucial for effective recovery from mental illness. High-quality programs take this mission very seriously. For starters, they do not only assess you for mental illness. They also look at other key aspects of your physical and mental well-being. In addition, top programs practice holistic treatment. This is the term for treatment that views you as a whole person, not just someone with an illness.

At Emerald Isle Health & Recovery, we are deeply committed to the elimination of mental health stigma. Every day, we provide resources that help individuals, families and the general public understand mental illness. If you have questions about any condition, we can answer them. Our straightforward approach is centered on compassion, not judgment.

Emerald Isle is also a premier provider of mental health services. With our help, you can develop a realistic roadmap to recovery. We not only specialize in the treatment of mental illness. We also specialize in the treatment of drug and alcohol problems. In addition, we offer help for people affected by dual diagnosis. This is the name for substance problems combined with additional mental health issues. For more information on how we choose compassion over the stigma, call us today.

  1. American Psychiatric Association: Stigma, Prejudice and Discrimination Against People with Mental Illness
  2. Mayo Clinic: Mental Health – Overcoming the Stigma of Mental Illness
  3. American Psychiatric Association: Words Matter – Reporting on Mental Health Conditions
  4. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services – Office on Women’s Health: Working With a Mental Health Condition
  5. National Alliance on Mental Illness: The Many Forms of Mental Illness Discrimination