While attitudes towards mental illness have changed over the years due to research, the establishment of government programs, and advocacy from numerous non-profit organizations, there is still a stigma surrounding mental illness due to misconceptions, misinformation, and prejudice. Often ignorance and a lack of empathy can handicap people’s ability to understand someone who behaves differently from them or the societal norms they are accustomed to.
Fear of the unknown often governs different types of prejudice, as well as media representation and ignorance. Prejudice is a preconceived opinion, often based on stereotypes, that, when acted upon, becomes discrimination. You may experience prejudice or discrimination from someone intentionally or unintentionally, but fighting stigma is essential for the mental health community and your self-esteem.
Stigmas Surrounding Mental Illness
People who stigmatize mental illness may believe that all people who are mentally ill are violent, homicidal, and dangerous, or are fragile, childlike, and incapable of making decisions. This may result in the criminalization of people with mental health problems receiving prison sentences instead of treatment.
It may also result in people making decisions for someone struggling with mental health and possibly forcing the person into treatment against their will. Some of the prejudices toward mental illness come from the inability to physically see mental illness as a disability. People may believe that someone with mental illness is responsible for their mental health problems and should figure it out for themselves or “get over it.”
Three Types of Stigmas
Stigma can be broken up into three groups; public stigma, institutional stigma, and self-stigma. Public stigma involves the negative attitudes and prejudices that people have about mental illness. This may be due to negative representations in media, misinformation, or ignorance. Public stigma may turn into institutional stigma, which is systematic and limits opportunities for people with mental health issues, including receiving treatment and obtaining services that might help them live more successful and well-balanced lives.
Self-stigma is when the negative prejudices that surround someone with mental health problems are internalized. This may cause the person to feel hopeless about him or herself or discourage the person from seeking out treatment. It can also make the person feel shame, lower their self-esteem, and increase difficulties at work and in relationships.
Combating Internalized Prejudice
It may be near impossible to avoid prejudice against mental illness; however, there are several ways you can combat self-stigma. It’s important to remember that you are not your mental illness. Your mental illness may be a part of you but, above all, you are a person. Some people who are experiencing self-stigma may feel isolated and like they are battling this alone.
Joining a mental health support group can give you a place to share your feelings with like-minded individuals and help you feel a sense of community and support. Your support system should include open-minded individuals willing to help you fight negative stigmas and treat you with respect and understanding.
Educating People Around You
The best way to combat prejudice is with knowledge and facts. Protesting when a stigmatized version of mental health is represented in media or condemning wrongful discrimination can help educate people on mental illness facts, help deter their prejudiced thoughts, and even set in motion change on institutional levels.
However, it is also important to educate people in your life and whose opinions may directly affect you. If someone at your workplace or in your personal life holds prejudices about mental illness and maybe even has discriminated against you, intentionally or unintentionally, it’s important to call them out on it. Communicate your feelings to them and tell them why what they said hurt you.
Inform them of a better stance that they can take and teach them the correct mental health language to prevent them from making the same mistake in the future. You might realize that many people in your life don’t know how to start a healthy conversation about mental health or the best way to help you when you are experiencing symptoms. Opening this dialogue may be key to battling some of their prejudices.
When to Leave a Toxic Situation
Even though many people might be willing to learn and change their attitudes regarding mental illness, you will run into people who are stuck in their ways. Some people have difficulties accepting a change of attitude due to stubbornness or false beliefs. You will not be able to change everyone’s attitude towards mental illness, and it is not your responsibility to do so. If a person continues to discriminate against you, it might be necessary to leave a potentially toxic situation.
Discriminatory behavior may include refusing to promote you, making decisions for you, talking down to you, or exclusion. Leaving a toxic situation might require you to quit your job or end a friendship. While this may not be easy, you must create an environment for yourself that generates positivity around mental health issues.
Many stigmas remain about mental health issues. The types of stigmas that a person may experience could vary based on the intersectionality of race, sex, wealth, sexual orientation, and severity of mental illness. It’s important to keep yourself from internalizing negative prejudices by seeking help from a mental health professional or support group.
At Shoreline Recovery Center, we work with our clients to create a treatment plan that will help them manage their symptoms, giving our clients the proper tools to combat negative stigmas through different types of psychotherapy, like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and more. Shoreline encourages participation and social activities for its clients so that they may build a support system with individuals who are understanding of what they are going through and might struggle with similar problems themselves. Please call us at (866) 278-8495 to learn more about our programs and how we can help.