Updated: Jul 7, 2020
“It’s really not a big deal.” Have you ever wondered why people living with mental illness suffer in silence? Let’s end the stigma and talk about mental health.
We never doubt a person with a broken bone about their pain. We don’t tell a person sitting in a wheelchair that they’re just faking it and it’s all in their head. They didn’t choose to go through it in their life but they are going through it so we don’t tell them to just “snap out of it”. Other sickness and disabilities should be treated similarly but unfortunately, that’s not the case with mental illness.
Why does every part of your body gets support and compassion in illness except for your brain? Just because you can’t see mental illness like you could see a broken bone, doesn’t mean it’s not there. Emotional pain is just as valid as physical pain and should be taken seriously.
What is Stigma?
Stigma is when someone sees you in a negative way because of a particular characteristic or attribute (such as skin colour, cultural background, a disability or a mental illness).
Mental health stigma can be divided into two distinct types: social stigma is the prejudicial attitude and discriminating behaviour directed towards individuals with mental health problems. In contrast, self-stigma is the prejudice which people with mental illness turn against themselves.
Why does Stigma exist?
Causes of stigma regarding mental health include: lack of knowledge (ignorance), negative attitudes (prejudice) and people behaving in ways that disadvantage the stigmatized person (discrimination).
Examples of how stigma is perpetuated include:
• Media depictions where the villain is often a character with a mental illness
• Harmful stereotypes of people with mental illness and calling them names
• Treating mental health issues as if they are something people can overcome if they just "try harder" or "snap out of it".
Most people who live with mental illness have, at some point, been blamed for their condition. They’ve been called “psychotic”, “dangerous”, and “crazy” to describe their behaviour. Their symptoms have been referred to as “a phase”. Stigma causes people to feel ashamed for something that is out of their control. Worst of all, stigma prevents people from seeking the help they need.
Many people with serious mental illness are challenged doubly. On one hand, they struggle with the symptoms and disabilities that result from the illness. On the other, they are challenged by the stereotypes and prejudice that result from misconceptions about mental illness. As a result of both, people with mental illness are robbed of the opportunities that define a quality life.
Consequences of Stigma
Some harmful effects of stigma include:
• feelings of shame, hopelessness and isolation
• reluctance to ask for help or to get treatment
• lack of understanding by family, friends or others
• fewer opportunities for employment or social interaction
• bullying, physical violence or harassment
• self-doubt – the belief that you will never overcome your illness or be able to achieve what you want in life.
Statistics on Mental Health Stigma
According to a survey, “people with mental illness are likely to avoid discussing their mental health concerns openly due to the fear of being labelled or judged.” Furthermore, “some people believe that mental illness can only happen to people who are mentally weak and people who have too much money and time." For these individuals, seeking support from a mental health professional is seen to be a sign of "weakness.”
One in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. Around 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.
Treatments are available, but nearly two-thirds of people with a known mental disorder never seek help from a health professional. Stigma, discrimination and neglect prevent care and treatment from reaching people with mental disorders, says the World Health Organization (WHO). Where there is neglect, there is little or no understanding. Where there is no understanding, there is neglect.
It’s about time we raise our voices against the stigma surrounding mental health issues which arises from the lack of knowledge, cultural stereotypes and prejudices, and the widespread what-will-people-say mentality. It’s important to understand that people with mental illness have the same rights as anybody else, and the acts which make them feel like outcasts should be put to a stop. We need to come out of this world of stigma, discrimination and ignorance, and create an environment where anyone can speak about their struggles without the fear of being judged or labelled a thousand derogatory terms. So that one day, we can live in a world where no individual is defined by their illness and where everyone is treated with kindness.