Mental Health and the Stigma

Mental Health and the Stigma attached is something that haunts many of us with a mental illness history. I am tired of being stigmatized because I have a mental illness. Society punishes me for “the sins of the father”(NKJ Bible, Exodus 34:6-7). I did not ask to be sexually abused as a child. I did not ask to have depression, anxiety, PTSD, and Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID) as a result of that abuse, but I do. So what can I do?

The Stigma of Mental Illness

First, learn some facts about mental illness and stigma. According to the Mental Health Commission three out of four people with a mental illness report that they have experienced stigma. Stigma is a mark of disgrace that sets a person apart. When a person is labeled by their illness they are seen as part of a stereotyped group. Negative attitudes create prejudice which leads to negative actions and discrimination.

And according to NAMI’s Fact Sheet it further defines stigma and what it leads to which in the nutshell is discrimination:

  • What is Stigma?
    • An attempt to label a particular group of people as less worthy of respect than others.
    • A mark of shame, disgrace or disapproval that results in discrimination.
    • Not just a matter of using the wrong word or action – it’s about disrespect
  • What does Stigma have to do with Mental Illness?
  • Stigma leads to …
    • Inadequate insurance coverage for mental health services
    • Fear, mistrust, and violence against people living with mental illness and their families
    • Family and friends turning their backs on people with mental illness
    • Prejudice and discrimination
  • Discrimination against people who have mental illnesses keeps them from seeking help.
    • While 1 in 5 Americans lives with a mental disorder, estimates indicate that nearly two-thirds of all people with a diagnosable mental illness do not seek treatment, especially people from diverse communities. 
    • Lack of knowledge, fear of disclosure, rejection of friends, and discrimination are a few reasons why people with mental illness don’t seek help.
    • Discrimination against people with mental illness violates their rights and denies them opportunities. Despite Civil Rights Law such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, people with mental illnesses often experience discrimination in the workplace, education, housing, and healthcare.

So What Do We Do?

What do we do about the stigma of mental illness? How do we fight against the discrimination in health insurance, housing, and the job market?

  1. Don’t take it personally. If someone’s ignorance and lack of knowledge is evident by their language and conversation, the worst thing you can do is react defensively. This empowers the other person’s words and assumes you are threatened by their response. It suggests there is some truth in what they say.
  2. Educate yourself with some statistics about mental illness. According to Psych Central:
    • One million people die from suicide around the globe. Over 30,000 people worldwide suffer from depression.
    • Suicide takes more lives than traffic accidents, lung disease, and AIDS.
    • Depression is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for ages 15-44.
    • 90 percent of people won’t get adequate treatment.
    • 80 percent would rather live with pain than do something about it.
  3. Own your story. Your story is the only one you own. You can tell your own experiences and story about how you are being helped. Those listening can’t disagree because it’s your story, not theirs.
  4. Stick to science and genetics. Nothing fights ignorance like the use of physiologic terms and neurobiology when speaking about your illness. Don’t forget to throw in genetics and how this affects my illness and mood disorders and the predisposition of your illness related to specific genes.
  5. And last, walk away. If the conversation frustrates you and the other person’s ignorance continues, you can either walk away and repeat…Don’t take it personally.

So now armed with information to fight those that insist on treating us with prejudice and ignorance. I can stand up for myself with dignity and educate those who insist on attaching a stigma to my name and my illness. So can you. Are your ready to stand up and fight?

[tweetthis twitter_handles=”Susan_Langer1″ remove_hidden_hashtags=”true”]Can you stand up and educate those who attach #stigma to mental illness?[/tweetthis]

See you next blog,