It’s Past Time to Say Goodbye to Mental Health Stigma

It’s Past Time to Say Goodbye to Mental Health Stigma

Most people will see their primary care provider (PCP) or head to an urgent care clinic when they’re sick with the flu or another physical health condition. However, the stigma around mental health often keeps people from getting the medical attention they need.

Centuries ago, mental health issues were often misrepresented as a religious punishment or seen as a sign of demonic possession. Those unfair beliefs, known as a stigma, linger today, even though we now know that mental health conditions are simply illnesses affecting the brain.

Stigma can affect people in many ways. Perhaps most notably, stigma fuels negative attitudes and discrimination. Thus, mental health stigma can keep people from receiving the diagnosis and treatment they need.

Understanding Mental Health Stigma

For much of recorded history, people with mental illness have been treated poorly. Even in modern times, when people living with mental illness received medical care, that medical care could be best described as bizarre or even cruel.

People who did receive mental health treatment, whether on their own or after being forced to do so, often never recovered from the “treatment” or were stigmatized by those within their community.

Mental health treatment today is far more civilized and we, as a society, can recognize the signs of mental illness more efficiently than ever before. Sadly, stigma of mental illness persists—and it’s primarily due to a lack of understanding.

There are multiple types of stigmas:

  • Public stigma, which includes the negative perception that people have about individuals living with mental illness
  • Self-stigma, an internalized shame or other negative attitude related to your own mental health condition
  • Institutional stigma, which is a systemic issue that includes governmental or organizational policies that limit opportunities for those with mental illness

While these types of stigmas are different, they have the same ultimate outcome. They deter people with mental health issues from seeking treatment due to feeling some form of shame.

Understanding Mental Health Stigma

What to Do If You’re Facing Mental Health Stigma

Dealing with self-stigma or negative opinions from those around you can be difficult, but try not to let these challenges keep you from seeking the mental health services you need.

If you’re dealing with a mental health condition, you are not alone. Mental health issues are incredibly common among Americans. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 20% of Americans are living with some type of mental illness.

If you’re dealing with symptoms that may be related to a mental health issue, don’t hesitate to seek treatment. Your mental health is every bit as important as your physical health.

There are many treatment options available that can help treat your condition, usually without significantly disrupting your day-to-day life.

Treating a condition affecting your mental health can also ensure you stay healthy overall. Strong mental health may benefit your physical health, and vice versa.

For example, people with depression have a 40% higher risk of developing heart disease and metabolic diseases like diabetes.

If you need some reassurance to help you overcome self-stigma and get treatment, consider joining a support group for people with similar mental health conditions. Meeting with others who are facing similar mental health challenges can help you understand the help that’s available to you and develop coping techniques.

What We All Can Do About the Mental Health Stigma

Addressing mental health stigma isn’t only a challenge for those with a mental health condition. As stigma persists, it harms the loved ones of those with mental illness, as well as the community. So, it’s important for every person to do what they can to address mental health stigma.

Wondering what you can do to help? Start here:

  • Be open about your mental health. While you don’t need to talk about the particulars of your health, mental health included, you also don’t have to hide it. Join a support group or talk with loved ones who will understand what you are experiencing.
  • Choose your words wisely. When you talk about mental health issues or those who are facing mental illness, be aware of the language you’re using. If you hear others using biased, insulting, or discriminatory wording, speak up.
  • Stand up against discrimination. It is illegal for an employer to discriminate based on a mental health diagnosis. When you see or hear something inappropriate, speak up. And if you’re involved at a leadership level, ensure your organization is supporting all employees fairly.
  • Treat your mental health like your physical health. If you’re “under the weather” mentally, talk with your PCP or therapist. It’s important to normalize getting mental health treatment.

There’s still much work to be done, but mental health stigma will be overcome eventually. In the meantime, don’t let it keep you or others from getting the necessary treatment.

Are you struggling with your mental health? Help is available. Schedule an appointment with behavioral health services at Carson Tahoe Health.