Let us Break Mental Health Stigma

BY: Neighbors’ Consejo|

At birth, we begin a constant learning process. From a very young age we give meanings and representations to things and people around us. Culture and society play a fundamental role here, because it is how we begin to build our identity and behaviors.

This explains the development of stereotypes and prejudices that are created within communities, since everything that is outside of what we consider normal or acceptable is rejected. From the beginning of the 15th century a process of rejection of mental illness began, when friar Juan Gilabert Jofré opened a hospital that over time was misnamed asylum, to confine the sick and avoid their contact with society. They were subjected to quite inhumane treatments, to the point that those who showed rebellious behavior were whipped, tied, chained or put in cages [1] . 

All the above generated a process of ignorance in the community about mental health and had a negative impact on individuals suffering from a disease, thus creating stigmatization towards the mentally ill. Then, what is stigmatization?

Stigma is a mark of shame or discredit [2] . According to the Mayo Clinic [3] , “stigma is when someone views you in a negative way because you have a distinguishing characteristic or personal trait that’s thought to be, or actually is, a disadvantage (a negative stereotype). Unfortunately, negative attitudes and beliefs toward people who have a mental health condition are common. Stigma can lead to discrimination.”

According to MedicalNewsToday “Stigma against mental illness can come from several sources, such as personal, social, and family beliefs, and from the mental health condition itself, which may cause a person to act outside what is considered the social or cultural norm. A lack of awareness, education, perception, and a fear of people with mental illness can all lead to increased stigma [4] .”

Nearly 9 out of 10 people with mental illness feel stigma and discrimination negatively impact their lives according to the Mental Health Foundation [5] , that is why it is important to remember the effects of stigma: Internalization of negative beliefs; social isolation; low self-esteem; hopelessness; shame; avoiding treatment; worsening symptoms; lack of criminal justice; discrimination at work; unemployment, etc [6] .

A CBS News poll revealed that 51% of Americans believe individuals with mental health disorders experience “a lot” of stigmas and discrimination, 35% of Americans believe they experience “some” stigmas and discrimination, and 13% of Americans believe they suffer “little to none” stigmas and discrimination [7] .

Moreover, a 2019 national poll from the American Psychiatric Association (APA [8] ) found that mental health stigma is still a major challenge in the workplace. About half of workers were concerned about discussing mental health issues at their jobs. More than one in three were concerned about retaliation or being fired if they sought mental health care.

Don’t worry, you can deal with stigma: Get the mental health treatment you need, do not believe it in the ignorance of others; do not hide away; connect with others; you are not defined by your illness, understand that you are one of too many people suffering from it.

The National Alliance on Mental Illness recommends nine ways to fight mental health stigma:

  • Talk openly about mental health
  • Educate yourself and others
  • Be conscious of language
  • Encourage equality between physical and mental illness
  • Show compassion for those with mental illness
  • Choose empowerment over shame
  • Be honest about treatment
  • Let the media know when they are stigmatizing
  • Do not harbor self-stigma [9] .











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