Why mental health is a taboo
Mental Health

Mental Health Stigma: Cause, Effect, And How To Overcome

Have you ever wondered why mental health is stigmatized? Why do almost 75% of the people suffering from mental health disorders refuse to seek help?

The topic in discussion is one of the leading causes of disability across the globe. One in four people experiences some form of psychological disorder. In the context of the total world population, that’s around 450 million. Almost 800000 people lose their lives to suicide every year. And yet, mental health is not perceived as a real problem. It’s considered to be “all in your head.”

Think about people suffering from mental health issues. For them, it’s a double-edged sword. On one hand, they struggle with the very real symptoms of their condition. On the other, they’re subjected to indignity over that condition.

Types Of Mental Health Stigma

There’s a twofold impact of the taboo around mental health- public stigma and self-stigma.

Public Stigma

Public Stigma around Mental Health

Most people around the world have stigmatizing attitudes towards mental illness. The World Psychiatry Association states three misconceptions and prejudices about mental health disorders:

  • One must fear people with mental illnesses, as they could be homicidal maniacs
  • Mental health patients are weak and as a consequence, mentally ill
  • The childlike perceptions of mental health patients are marvel-worthy

The disapproval for people with psychiatric disabilities is much greater than for those with physical ailments. It is believed that people who suffer from mental health issues bring it upon themselves, by means of substance abuse, prostitution, and criminality.

This levity and discrimination lead to the avoidance of those with mental health issues, pushing them into isolation and further aggravating their condition.

Self Stigma

Self stigma around mental health

Edith Weisskopf-Joelson, a holocaust survivor and renowned Psychology professor contended before her death-” The burden of unavoidable unhappiness is increased by unhappiness about being unhappy.”

Isolating behaviour from society causes suffering individuals to feel less valued. Guilt takes over, taking a toll on their self-esteem and self-confidence, driving some to the point of self-harm.   

Where Does This Stigma Emanate From?

The stigma around mental health stems from the fact that people don’t understand it. Nor is it visible, as opposed to a physical illness. Three stereotypes about the mentally ill form the basis of the prevalent taboo-

  • Unpredictability
  • Unreliability
  • Dangerousness

Even psychiatric practitioners are not immune to this discriminatory outlook towards their patients.

It doesn’t help that the media sensationalizes all news around the topic. It uses demeaning language and deems the sufferers crazy. The association of mental health with violent incidents provides further confirmation bias- ‘That all mentally ill people are capable of violent behaviour’.

The stigmatization of mental health patients is not new. In ancient Greece, stigma was a mark that was burned into the skins of criminals and slaves to identify them. And sufferers of mental illnesses such as autism, schizophrenia, and even depression were treated as criminals. They were either imprisoned or tortured and killed.

Imprisonment of mental health patients in ancient Greece

The Middle Ages witnessed a different perception. Mental illness was seen as a punishment from the Almighty and patients were chained to their beds in madhouses and penitentiaries. 

It was only during Enlightenment that mental health became a cause for concern and the cycle of torture began to cease.  In 1989, Florence in Italy became the first city to provide good hygiene and work opportunities for mental health sufferers. Paris too forbade hospital staff from torturing the mentally ill. A York retreat was established in 1796 in England for mental health patients to work, discuss their problems, and rest. The world was finally adopting a humane approach for dealing with troubled souls.

Impact Of Stigma On Mental Health

“Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all.”

Bill Clinton

People suffering from mental health issues are ashamed to talk about it, or admit it, even to themselves. This perfectly hidden depression does more harm than good.

The taboo around mental health can have the following repercussions:

  • Feelings of hopelessness and isolation
  • Denial and refusal to seek treatment
  • Feeling unloved and unaccepted by family and friends
  • Workplace discrimination, leading to fewer opportunities
  • Low self-confidence
  • Bullying and harassment
  • Suicidal tendencies

Coping With The Stigma

It’s important to help yourself when society won’t. Stigmatization shouldn’t deprive you of the opportunity to get better. Here are a few steps to cope and move forward.

1. Seek Therapy/Treatment

The fear of judgement and prejudice can prevent you from seeking professional help. Know that it’s okay to feel the way you do. What you do with that feeling is what determines the course for the rest of your life. Treatment might get you one step closer to living a less dreadful life.

2. You Are Not The Illness

Stop referring to yourself as the problem. You have the illness, you’re not it. For instance, don’t call yourself a borderline personality. Term your condition a borderline personality disorder.

3. Know And Believe That You’re Not Alone

Even if society chooses to abandon and ostracize you, your family will always be there for you. They may not understand, but they’ll hold your hand every step of the way and get you through your struggles. It’s important that you trust them and confide in them, and you’ll see a seachange in yourself, by being able to open up.

4. Speak Out

There are a lot of people out there going through the same thing as you. If you speak out about your internal battles, they’ll have the courage to do the same and seek treatment. One person commits suicide every 40 seconds. You speaking out may discourage someone from taking that drastic step.

What Can You Do To Destigmatize Mental Health Problems?

Be the change you want to see in the world

You too can join the fight against mental health stigma, play your part to make sure that people, who are prisoners of their own insecurities, don’t trouble those who are already fighting their own demons.

1. Encourage People To Seek Help

Instead of blaming and shaming, encourage mental health patients to seek help. Don’t force upon them what you think is the best form of treatment. Let them decide, and extend support in any way you can.

2. Educate Yourself About Mental Health

Instead of ridiculing mental health as imaginary craziness, read about it. Educate yourself so that it enables you to help others, and not judge them. But do so from trusted sources. Else, the pandemic that is misinformation can leave you further prejudiced.

3. Be Patient

Mental health sufferers may at times be galling. It’s important to be patient with them. Calling them out, losing your temper, and insulting them will only make their condition worse. The best tools for such a situation are love and empathy.

4. Support Policy Changes Around Mental Health

The coronavirus pandemic has emphasized the importance of mental health like never before. New policies are cropping up every day to support as many individuals as possible. Be a part of the revolution and support policy changes that work in favour of mental health.

Mental Health Stigma- Final Thoughts

The perception of mental health may be changing. But the number of people slipping into depression is higher than ever. It’s important to identify the multifarious reasons behind this rise. Developing coping mechanisms is the need of the hour.

Empathy and love towards mental health patients

The taboo around mental health is the last thing the world needs right now. With so much hatred prevalent already, let’s extend love towards those who need it the most. Mental health illness, like any other physical illness, requires treatment. Let’s ensure that we don’t discourage those in need from seeking it.

Next Read: Is loneliness a mental health issue?

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