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Understanding and Overcoming the Mental Health Stigma

Updated: May 7, 2022

It is the year 2022 and there is no reason for mental health stigma to exist any longer, and yet it does. While we're happy to see that mental health is being included in the conversation more than it was in the past, it's not always being done in the appropriate way. We realize that there is a lot of misinformation out there and we want to help spread awareness.

What is mental health stigma?

Medical News Today defines stigma as "a negative and often unfair social attitude attached to a person or group, often placing shame on them for a perceived deficiency or difference to their existence."

Here are some examples of stigma:

  • Name-calling or bullying

  • Misrepresentation of individuals with a mental health disorder as violent or dangerous

  • Believing people need to "suck it up" and just choose to behave differently

  • Teasing someone who seeks treatment for mental health

  • Avoiding relationships with people with mental health conditions

How the mental health stigma hurts people

Stigma stops people from getting help

When people believe they will be judged or treated differently if they go to therapy or are diagnosed with a mental health disorder, it can stop them from taking the steps they need to get help. Some of this can be due to myths they believe about mental health or fear of what others will think.

This can include fear of what family and friends will think about them or if they will begin to treat them differently. It can also include a fear of being discriminated against at work.

When people worry that seeking help will lead to more negative experiences in their life, they can feel tempted to stick with the challenges they're already experiencing instead of facing the unknown.

Stigma reduces the amount of support available

When people believe all the myths about mental health that exist in society, it can limit the amount of available support that a person receives when they reach out for help.

If someone is diagnosed with cancer, people tend to rally around them and look for ways to encourage and support them. There has been a lot of information shared about cancer, so it's a topic people will talk about more openly now, and as a result, others are more comfortable looking for ways to help those diagnosed.

When it comes to mental health disorders, on the other hand, people aren't sure how to respond. Stigma makes it difficult for people to rally around and support one another the way we need. For example, if someone is diagnosed with a depressive disorder, even if they share the diagnosis with friends and family, stigma may cause their loved ones to stay quiet. The uncomfortableness of not knowing how to respond may lead them to ignore the situation instead of asking how they can support their loved one during this time.

Stigma can lead to bullying and harassment

When people believe the myths of mental health stigma, it can lead to negative treatment of those with a mental health diagnosis. This can take on many different forms. This could include things like physical violence or name-calling and verbal abuse. It can also include social bullying such as excluding people from groups and interactions. In addition, social media has to led cyberbullying which can leave people feeling like there is no escape from it.

Stigma can impact how you feel about yourself

If you're struggling with mental health challenges, the stigma you are fighting might not be coming from other people, it may be impacting how you think about yourself. If you believe the myths of mental health stigma, it can lead you to think lots of negative things about yourself. When you believe these lies, it can cause you to change your behavior. Eventually, you may find that stigma is adding to the anxiety you feel.

Learning to fight back and end stigma is crucial for helping people get the help they need.

How we can end the mental health stigma

If you're ready to help end stigma, here are a few things you can do to help:

Learn about mental health disorders

The more you know the facts, the easier it will be for you to identify stigma in your beliefs and in conversations you have with others. The saying "we don't know what we don't know" is all too true. If you want to help end stigma, begin by educating yourself first. Google is full of mental health information, but make sure you're looking at reliable sources. Here are a few suggestions you can check out for more information:

Think about what you say

We are in a period of time where the list of acceptable language is changing in many areas, and the same should be true for mental health language. Here are a few examples of changes you can in your language around mental health:

  • Use person-centered language: Instead of saying "he is bipolar" switch it to "he is diagnosed with bipolar disorder." Think of it the same way you think of physical illnesses. You would never say "He is strep throat"; you would say "he has strep throat."

  • Don't misuse diagnoses in your conversations: There is a tendency for people to use terms like OCD, ADD, or narcissist as a way to describe their behavior or another person's behavior. Diagnoses shouldn't be used to describe the way a person is acting. Many times these are used to describe common behaviors such as using ADD if you're having a hard time focusing or OCD if you like to keep things organized. These are examples of misusing mental health language.

  • Stop using suicidal phrases as common phrases: Saying things like "I just want to die" or "I want to kill myself" or using your finger to pretend to shoot yourself is not the proper way to communicate if you are frustrated, angry, or annoyed by something. Choose words and actions that are appropriate for the situation and put yourself in the shoes of others who may be struggling themselves or have lost someone who died by suicide.

  • Stop using crazy/nuts/insane: These words can be stigmatizing to individuals diagnosed with mental health disorders. These are terms that were misused in society for far too long.

By changing your language in a few simple ways, you can help remove the stigma for others.

Share your stories

Personal stories are one of the most effective ways to reduce mental health stigma. Getting mental health into the conversation and working to remove the awkwardness from the conversation will have a big impact on ending stigma once and for all. However, this requires people to be willing to share their own experiences.

If we continue to remain quiet about mental health, it allows people to feel that they are struggling alone. The more we can share our stories and connect with others who have similar experiences, the less power stigma holds.

Call out stigma when you see it

Don't let mental health stigma go unchallenged. Call it out in conversations with others (but remember to do it kindly remembering that others may not be aware of the same things you are.) If you spot mental health stigma in television shows or movies, be vocal about it. The more we challenge stigma when we see it, the more we help educate others who are unaware.

Take care of yourself

When it comes to mental health challenges, it can feel easier to support others than to take care of ourselves. If you have been silently trying to handle your challenges on your own, please don't hesitate to reach out for help. Our team at The NEST is ready to come alongside you to overcome stigma and support you on your journey to feeling your best. We will help match you with a therapist that is a good fit for you and your unique needs.

As we move through Mental Health Awareness Month, remember it's just as important to prioritize your health and wellness as it is to help others do the same. Set an example for those around you and take care of yourself. You are worth it!

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