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RELEASE: MRHC Shares the Importance of Erasing the Mark of Mental Illness
By Bradley Madsen, Recovery Center Clinical Coordinator
So often it seems as if we are caught up in the day-to-day grind of everyday life and it’s easy to find ourselves closed off to things that don’t affect us daily. Mental illness for example. Unless you or a loved one are dealing with it personally or professionally every day, it’s easy to ignore how deeply mental illness impacts even those who don’t directly suffer.
Despite all of the progress we have made through the decades, mental illness still carries a stigma in the minds of many people, sometimes even in well-meaning, caring people. All illustrating the point that stigma associated with mental illness remains very real and profound.
Why is it important to increase awareness about stigmatization in mental health? According to the A.P.A., more than half of people with mental illness don’t receive help. There are numerous reasons for this; some don’t receive help due to lack of insurance, having a plan that skimps on mental health or a plan that outright doesn’t cover what is needed. Often, people avoid seeking treatment out of fear of being treated differently (the stigma). Certain manifestations of acute mental illness can be frustrating and even frightening to those who don’t deal with it daily.
People may avoid seeking help out of fear of losing a job or friendships or being told by ignorant friends or family members, “You just need to stop feeling sorry for yourself and pull yourself up by the bootstraps!”, as if mental illness were a weakness or something to be ashamed of. This is all because stigma; prejudice and discrimination against people with mental illness are still very much a problem. And as with other medical conditions, when people don’t seek care, their condition typically worsens.
Stigma, prejudice and discrimination against individuals with mental illness can be subtle or it can be obvious, and always detrimental. As with any sort of stigma, stigma surrounding mental illness comes from ignorance and/or fear. This ignorance and fear can be bolstered by media portrayals of mental illness, and even sometimes by ill-directed citation of statistics.
Why this is Important
Stigma and discrimination can contribute to worsening symptoms and may also keep some people from getting the help they need. A recent extensive review of research found that self-stigma leads to negative effects on recovery among people diagnosed with severe mental illnesses.
According to the Mayo Clinic, effects of stigmatization can include:
- Reduced hope
- Lower self-esteem & self-efficacy
- Increased psychiatric symptoms
- Difficulties with social relationships and/or social isolation
- More difficulties at work
- Reluctance to seek treatment and less likely to stay with treatment
- Lack of understanding by family, friends, coworkers, or others
- Fewer opportunities for work, school or social activities
- Trouble finding adequate housing
- Bullying, physical violence or harassment
- Increase in suicidal ideation
It comes back to awareness and education. Just knowing a person with a mental illness is one of the best ways to reduce stigma if we are open-minded and willing to ask questions and learn. Just as with addiction, sufferers sharing their personal stories of recovery can have a profound impact. When we personally know someone with mental illness or addiction, it becomes far less mysterious and more real and relatable.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) offers tips to help reduce the stigma of mental illness:
- Talk openly about mental health, such as sharing on social media or talk with others.
- Educate yourself and others – respond to misperceptions or negative comments by sharing facts and experiences.
- Be conscious of language – remind people that words matter.
- Encourage equality between physical and mental illness – draw comparisons to how they would treat someone with cancer or diabetes.
- Show compassion for those with mental illness.
- Be honest about treatment – normalize mental health treatment, just like other health care.
- Let the media know when they are using stigmatizing language presenting stories of mental illness in a stigmatizing way.
- Choose empowerment over shame
We have made great strides in diminishing the stigma of mental illness, but there’s plenty still to do. We can do our part by truly listening to people who are enduring mental illness and by showing compassion. Challenge what you think you know, challenge your own biases and then encourage others to do the same. We can also do our part by speaking out when we encounter damaging stereotypes in the media, or discriminatory practices in business.
It takes each of us doing our part to help overcome stigma associated with mental illness. As individuals and caregivers, we do this through increasing public awareness of what mental illness is (and what mental illness it is not). Mental illness is NOT a choice, or a weakness or a moral failing or the wrath of an angry deity. Mental illness IS a disease that can improve with proper treatment.