What Does It Mean to Experience Self-Stigma?

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There’s no doubt that many people with mental illness experienced discrimination or stereotyping on a daily basis. Nearly one in five Americans experience a mental health disorder each year, yet only 25% of people with a psychological condition feel that others are understanding or compassionate about their mental illness, according the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. Many people look at mental illness as a character deficiency – as if someone could simply “get over” their mental illness if they wanted to. Unfortunately, this has caused many people to internalize these damaging perceptions.OK

Self-stigma, or internalization, refers to a time when a person cognitively or emotionally absorbs stigmatizing assumptions or stereotypes about their mental illness and comes to apply those beliefs to who they are as a person. According to a study published in Psychiatric Services, self-stigma can lead to a number of damaging outcomes, including: avoidant coping, social avoidance, decreased hope and self-esteem, worsening of symptoms of one’s mental illness, and decrease use of mental health services and other support groups.

Self-stigma is marked by shame – a feeling that one isn’t “good enough” or that one cannot receive what they need because they are “inadequate”. A 2015 study conducted by researchers from the University of Connecticut interviewed 105 adults with mental illness who self-reported their experiences of discrimination based on their mental illness, their anticipation of discrimination and social devaluation from others in the future, and their level of internalized stigma. Some participants ranked high on the following beliefs associated with internalization:

  • “Having experiences with mental illness makes me feel like a bad person.”
  • “I feel I am not as good as others because of my mental illness.”
  • “I feel guilty because of my mental illness.”
  • “I feel that my mental illness is a sign of personal failure.”

The researchers found that many participants experience discrimination due to their mental illness, leading them to anticipate these instances in the future. The more people anticipated the stigma, the more they internalized it as well.

Internalization can be overcome by seeking treatment and developing a healthy support network while learning healthy coping skills. Discrimination and stereotypes surrounding mental illness needs to cease, as society needs to become more aware of the unique circumstances each person experiences with mental illness. The more understanding and compassion we can bring to mental illness, the more our loved ones can get the help they need to thrive and live a happier, healthier life.

Avalon Malibu is a world-renowned, California state-licensed mental health and substance abuse recovery center. If you are ready to seek treatment to develop the tools you need to overcome life’s obstacles and be on the road towards happiness, health, and well-being, call us today at 888-958-7511 for a consultation. It’s never too late, and there are people here ready to help you.

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