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How Stigma Impacts People with Mental Health Issues

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When people struggle with mental health, it can feel like no one else understands what they’re going through. This lack of understanding can create an isolating feeling that makes their struggles worse. The stigma surrounding mental health can make many afraid of sharing their mental health struggles with friends and family, worried that they might be judged or shunned.

Stigma is an unfair mark of shame put on people with mental health issues, and since many of these are societal, those struggling with their mental health may even stigmatize themselves. Here, we will look at how stigma can impact those struggling with mental health issues.

Types of Stigma

There are three types of stigma that can influence someone consciously or unconsciously.

Public stigma: The discrimination and devaluation of groups or individuals. This can include stereotypes of people with health conditions that impact their behavior. Belief in those stereotypes can affect job prospects, healthcare, and more.

Systemic stigma: Systemic stigma can limit people’s access to care and resources through policies and protocols. Systemic stigma can be seen in laws, organizations, and institutions that influence or regulate society. It affects large numbers of people as a group or social class.

Self-stigma: Negative stereotypes can be internalized to the point that they affect a person’s self-esteem, which can lead to feelings of hopelessness and self-doubt. Self-stigma can also prevent people from seeking help.

How Mental Health Stigma Impacts Us

All three types of stigma can negatively impact a person’s mental health. For those struggling with anxiety, stigmatizing beliefs might include:

  • Anxiety is not real.
  • Anxiety is a sign of personal weakness.
  • People with anxiety disorders are unstable.
  • People with anxiety are lazy or self-centered.
  • They can just snap out of it if they want to.

People struggling with anxiety might believe some of the public stigma and turn it into self-stigma. This is dangerous for those struggling with mental health because they might be ashamed of seeking help to manage it. They might also believe they just need to snap out of it and they’ll be fine. When people feel this way, they can begin feeling isolated and misunderstood. They might feel hesitant to seek medical care, thinking it is shameful. Internalizing all this stigma can worsen their condition and lead to other mental health issues and possibly even physical illnesses.

How Pop Culture Feeds Mental Health Stigma

The media typically gives more attention to violent crimes committed by those with mental health issues. TV, movies, and news media often portray people with mental health disorders as dangerous. This is a harmful stereotype.

When people see examples of stigma and stereotypes in pop culture, they can internalize them as self-stigma and be even more reluctant to seek treatment and get help managing their symptoms. Fortunately, the media are becoming more aware of stigma about mental health, but it’s a slow process to undo the damage of the past. Celebrities have been openly discussing their mental health struggles, which helps destigmatize these conditions. However, these gains won’t happen overnight.

How Can I Reduce Mental Health Stigma?

There are three main ways that you can combat the stigma surrounding mental health disorders:

  • Educate yourself and others.
  • Interact with people who have mental health disorders.
  • Protest unfair depictions of mental health disorders.

Social media plays a huge role in the stigma surrounding mental health disorders, but it can also be a positive tool to educate people. For example, if you are struggling with your mental health, part of helping erase the stigma could be using social media to talk openly about your struggles, which can help open the eyes of people in your life.

If you are on antidepressants or seeing a therapist, do not be afraid to talk about it. These are things that help you manage your mental health. They are not something to feel ashamed of any more than someone who is nearsighted wearing glasses to help them see. Being open like this can help someone struggling with their mental health to seek the help they need to manage their symptoms and shed their self-stigma.

How Do I Let Go of My Self-Stigma about Mental Health?

These tips can help you work on shedding your self-stigma about mental health.

  • Get the help you deserve. Whether this is medication, therapy, a mental health app, or some combination, getting that help is crucial.
  • Be open about getting help.
  • Reach out to people you trust for help and support. They might be more empathic than judgmental.
  • Consider joining a support group to normalize your mental health issues.
  • Own your experiences.
  • Use person-first language; your illness is not your identity. For example, say, “I have bipolar disorder” instead of “I’m bipolar.”
  • Do not let stigma make you feel ashamed or cause you to isolate yourself.
  • Speak out against stigma when you encounter it.

Remember that much judgment stems from a lack of understanding, so educating others on your struggles is essential. Accepting and learning more about your mental health issues can help you do that.


About the Author: Auz Burger is a freelance writer and an expert in mental health. She has a BA from Washington State University and has been writing and editing professionally for over a decade.

Photo by Travis Saylor: https://www.pexels.com/photo/cyclone-fence-in-shallow-photography-951408/

The opinions and views expressed in any guest blog post do not necessarily reflect those of www.rtor.org or its sponsor, Laurel House, Inc. The author and www.rtor.org have no affiliations with any products or services mentioned in the article or linked to therein. Guest Authors may have affiliations to products mentioned or linked to in their author bios.

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