Reducing the Stigma of Mental Illness

Mental illness affects millions every day. Some may manage their conditions with treatment and counselling, while others could be afraid to seek help when it is required.

The stigma surrounding mental illness can cause long-term issues for those diagnosed with these conditions and can become difficult for their loved ones as well. Mental health stigma often arises from a misunderstanding of how mental illnesses occur and how these conditions impact those who have them. This often means those who suffer from mental illnesses are discriminated against and they may even become cut off from those who know them.

To reduce the stigma of mental illness and the negative effects it can have, it is important to understand how stigma forms. Being aware of the way it can affect people is an important aspect in reducing stigma associated with mental illnesses. Educating yourself and altering your attitude in the light of new information can help you make the biggest change.

What causes mental illness stigma?

The primary cause of mental illness stigma is generally a failure to understand mental illness itself. Mental illnesses often do not have physical symptoms in the same way other illnesses do, and their effects might be misinterpreted as personality traits or voluntary behaviors. Some people might view mental illness as a result of moral failing as they do not have an accurate understanding of how these conditions originate.

Some mental illnesses are viewed as dangerous and untreatable due to a lack of understanding around mental health treatment. This can lead people to believe that those who suffer from these conditions must be treated within a facility as they may not understand how treatment can be administered as part of an everyday routine.

Related Article: Common Signs and Symptoms of Mental Health Issues

Historical perceptions of mental illness, and their conflation with outdated scientific ideas, often contribute to the overall stigma. The use of these stereotypes in popular culture and the media can reinforce the stigma and cause people to form incorrect opinions unintentionally.

The Effects of Mental Illness Stigma

If someone is affected by mental health stigma, he or she is more likely to be nervous during interactions with those who have mental illnesses. This fear often results in prejudice and exclusion, and those who suffer from mental illnesses can be cut off from the social groups they might need the most for support and assistance.

The effects of stigma can often be exacerbated by negative stereotypes perpetuated in the media. This could be something as obvious as a mentally ill fictional character being portrayed as violent or unstable. It could be something small, such as the choice of inaccurate terminology or damaging labels in a news report.

Those who have mental health conditions can struggle with stigma themselves, as they may believe false information about their own conditions because of what they see in the media. They could find it difficult to ask for help if they think that they cannot be treated or if they believe the illness is rooted in their personality. This can make the effects of the illness worse and negatively impact the lifestyle of those with mental illnesses moving forward.

Education

One of the key factors in reducing mental health stigma is increasing mental health literacy. Learning what can cause mental illness, and what different mental illnesses mean, may help to reduce the inaccurate stereotypes people may hold.

As well as lessening the potential fear or discomfort people may have around this topic, educational campaigns may encourage those with mental illnesses to speak out about them. Ending the taboo can mean more people seeking help which can reduce the effects of mental illness on their lives and the lives of those around them.

Knowing this information does not necessarily mean people are going to put it into practice. While mental health literacy on its own may not be enough to reduce stigma in the long term, it can help to show people where changes can be made and how to make them.

Laws and Policy

Some of the most notable effects of mental illness stigma can be seen in the actions of those who hold power over others. This could be legislative power, social power or power in a business relationship. Education and awareness campaigns designed to affect those who may hold this kind of power could be one of the best ways to reduce the effects of mental illness stigma.

Significant effects could be felt through campaigns designed to impact these groups:

  • Employers.
  • Health professionals.
  • Law enforcement.
  • Landlords.
  • Media groups.
  • Politicians and government employees.

Laws and policies reducing or preventing discrimination has a powerful effect on those dealing with the stigma of mental health conditions. Such polices can help reduce the stereotypes and misconceptions help by those without mental illnesses.

Communication

One of the reasons mental health stigma may be difficult to deal with is the discomfort many feel in discussing it. Educational campaigns normalizing the discussion of mental illness, its causes, effects and treatment, may be able to help. Creating spaces in which people can seek help for their mental health issues could be a step in the right direction to reduce the fear of speaking out over these problems.

The internet has been particularly useful for those seeking to discuss their issues in anonymity. Not all spaces are free from stigma and discrimination, though and those with mental health conditions must ensure they are selecting the right forums to discuss their experiences. Forums and support groups must be set up with proper boundaries and moderation to provide the help and support required.

Individual Attitudes

When addressing the issue of mental illness stigma, the most important change can be in your own personal attitude. Even widespread educational campaigns and attempts to make social change can go without long-term results if individuals do not make any changes themselves.

After you have learned information that could change the way you perceive those with mental illnesses, you must allow it to change the way you act. You may be able to vote in favor of legislation used to prevent discrimination, or you may be able to use alternative language when speaking about someone who has a mental illness as this could affect the perceptions and opinions of those around you.

If you deal with a mental illness, it is important to seek help. If you think a loved one has a mental health condition he or she may need help with, you can encourage him or her to talk about the problem without fear of discrimination or judgement.

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