With movies, phrases, and common misconceptions, mental illnesses often get a bad reputation. Many people see a major event or upsetting situation that involves a mental illness and they believe that all people with that mental illness act a certain way or they develop negative views of a certain mental illness – causing an unbalance in societal views and perpetuating negativity. Stigmas often lead people to believe that mental illnesses are dangerous, unpredictable, that a person is responsible for their mental illness, or that a person is generally incompetent, and these views promote discrimination.
For those of us who suffer from a mental illness, stigmas surrounding our disorder can be debilitating and can perpetuate the negative symptoms of the illness itself. If we can gain a better understanding of how stigmas impact people, we can change the conversation of mental illness to a more hopeful, positive, and realistic one – that each person, circumstance, and disorder is different and should be treated as such.
Stigmas surrounding mental illnesses often exclude people from job opportunities, social events, educational opportunities, can cause people to be excluded from receiving patient-focused treatment and care, and even causes internalization. When a person experiences internalization, they believe the negative thoughts of others and think of themselves as unable to recover, undeserving of love and care, dangerous, unpredictable, and responsible for their illness.
A 2015 review conducted by Clement and colleagues seen in Cambridge University Press found that of 90,189 participants identified in numerous studies, internalization and treatment stigma were most associated with reduced help-seeking. Disclosure concerns were the most prevalent reason for why people didn’t want to seek treatment. These are perpetuated by stigma and cause us to feel badly about ourselves or others.
Stigmas perpetuate fear, and in turn cause people to be treated poorly for no reason. Author Samantha Gluck from Healthy Place identified in 2015 that prejudice, mistrust, and violence on those with mental disorders as mechanisms that further damage us as a society. They cause people to turn from their loved ones, create distance, and delay seeking help when it’s truly needed. On a basic level, stigmas provide no benefit to anyone because they are based on assumptions without knowing the facts.
To reduce stigmas surrounding mental illness, we need to share our stories. Telling others about the reality of our symptoms will show that each person is different. Continue researching and providing facts to others. If we hear someone making an incorrect assumption about mental illness, and it is safe to do so, we should stand up for those who suffer from that mental illness and gently correct our loved ones. We should begin conversations surrounding mental illness to educate and inform others. Joining organizations that support mental illnesses is a fantastic way to get involved and to meet others who also suffer. Lastly, we should continue believing in ourselves and embracing who we are, no matter what anyone says.
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