If you are somebody who struggles with their mental health, how many times have you hidden this fact from your family, friends or wider community? We can imagine that you’ve done this at least once (or maybe many more times) – and probably because you were fearful of the judgement you might have faced. Or perhaps you were worried about what would happen, or what you would miss out on if people knew about your mental health problems. Whatever the reason, it’s likely that stigma was the reason behind it – that is, the negative or discriminatory attitudes towards people struggling with their mental health (Wu, Bathje, Kalibatseva, Sung, Leong & Collins-Eaglin, 2017). This often means that people who suffer from poor mental health do not seek the help that they require and deserve – for fear of being labelled or judged.
As much as we wish it wasn’t, stigma against mental health is very common in our society. Stigma of mental health affects everyone differently but it is important to look out for some of the ways it has perpetrated society. We have compiled a short (and certainly not extensive) list of the ways in which people have to face stigma.
– Negatively viewed by society
– Bullying or harassment in the school or workplace
– Labelled with negative personality traits/behaviours instead of correctly acknowledged for having a mental illness
– Lack of cover by health insurance policies
– Treated differently by society or excluded from certain things
– Made to feel ashamed, worthless,
– Experiences/emotions invalidated or dismissed
– Fewer opportunities in all aspects of life (work/school, housing, social activities etc)
The experience of being stigmatised, discriminated against or treated differently actually has an adverse effect on mental health – that is, people become more vulnerable to poor mental health and mental health problems are exacerbated (made worse). Often it can cause feelings of hopelessness, self-doubt, fear for safety and exclusion – all of which contribute to poor mental health outcomes.
Unfortunately our society is still learning about mental health, the problems people face everyday, and the unique experiences of living with a mental illness. Almost always, stigma comes from a lack of understanding or knowledge about mental health, rather than information based on actual facts. In no way are we wanting to excuse stigmatising behaviours or attitudes, but we do want to acknowledge that lack of education and exposure to mental health issues can definitely impact this. We believe it’s important to speak out (loudly and proudly) about mental health, so we can reach as many people as possible with our words.
We truly believe that stigma does not need to be an issue in our society, and that everyone should be able to access support without fear or insecurity. But, we know that we have a long way to go before that happens – so for now we will keep talking about mental health, mental illness and the struggles individuals face everyday. You can help too – by getting educated about mental health and sharing this with family, friends and colleagues.
Wu, I. H., Bathje, G. J., Kalibatseva, Z., Sung, D., Leong, F. T., & Collins-Eaglin, J. (2017). Stigma, mental health, and counseling service use: A person-centered approach to mental health stigma profiles. Psychological services, 14(4), 490.