On Mental health Stigma: Rewinding to the Past and Stepping Forward to Room for Improvement
Have you ever encountered a time when you felt lost and unsafe to share how you feel? As we all know, mental health wasn’t as important back then as it is now. However, there are still stigmas surrounding such topics and this possesses an unsafe environment for every individual. Essentially, the word stigma refers to shame and dishonor since time immemorial. Currently, it has different forms, and these forms of stigma affect people’s quality of life. There may be massive progress in the attitudes of society and medicine regarding treating and caring for people with mental illness. However, more improvement is needed, and important strides must be taken to do so.
What is Stigma?
Stigma comes from the Greek word stizein, which means, “to tattoo,” referring to marks that signify that a person is enslaved or doing criminal acts (Shpancer, 2022). Today, stigma is characterized by negative and unfair beliefs about an entity, (may that be a person, group of people, or objects) that leads to dishonor in their dignity (Susman, 2019; Mayo Clinic, 2017). Stigma has different forms. One is public stigma, which is the first thing that comes to people’s minds about stigma. Public stigma is seen when society has negative attitudes toward people who have a mental illness. The second is self-stigma, which refers to the internalized negative attitudes toward people with mental illness, in other words humiliating oneself for having a mental illness. The third is institutional stigma, which describes how government or private companies limit opportunities for people with mental illness, like allocating lower funds for the mental health sector, insurance companies that do not cover mental health care services for their policies, and having a glass ceiling in terms of job opportunities for people with mental illness (American Psychiatry Association, 2020).
The Evolution of Stigma
Before, people with mental illness received great unfair treatment. The usual route for treatment was to get institutionalized; however, some of them were isolated, tortured, and slaughtered. In other words, people with mental illness were not given a chance to practice their agency, to decide what would be best for them. Today, mental health care is now focused on the client, specifically, on what matters to the client. With this, people with mental illness can still be part of their communities and feel empowered to seek mental health care services. Despite this huge progress, there is still some stigma left; some people are still hesitant to go to a guidance counselor but would not be as hesitant to go to a doctor if they have a cold, and unfortunately, some groups still have prejudice toward people with mental illness. While there is progress, there is definitely room for improvement.
It’s Time to Speak Up!
In the past, mental health problems were considered taboo; hence, this topic is not talked about in family gatherings or even privately at the dining table. Mental health problems are swept under the rug, and the autopilot response is to stay silent about them. In reality, silence promotes stigma, so to stop the stigma, we need to speak up (Feldman, 2022). We can start talking to people that we trust and feel comfortable enough to open up to, which also solidifies our support system (Zoppi, 2020). Some people seek anonymous, personal anecdotes online so that they can learn from someone who has gone through the mental health illness that they are experiencing. Celebrities using their platforms to talk about the importance of mental wellness and how they deal with their mental health illness also promote help-seeking behaviors to the public, which greatly reduces mental health stigma. Speaking up has its advantages, and we must remain courteous and constructive since it’s for the common good’s mental wellness.
We cannot deny that mental health has had a turbulent past, but we can do something about it in the present by knowing its current status and making improvements. Speaking up about mental health is easier said than done, but talking about mental health with trusted family members and friends is a big deal. We are part of changing the mental health narrative and making a better history for mental health.
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American Psychiatry Association. (2020). Stigma, Prejudice and Discrimination Against People with Mental Illness. https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/stigma-and-discrimination
Feldman, D.B. (2018, August 10). The Tragedy of Mental Illness Stigma. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/supersurvivors/201808/the-tragedy-mental-illness-stigma
Mayo Clinic. (2017, May 24). Mental health: Overcoming the stigma of mental illness. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mental-illness/in-depth/mental-health/art-20046477
Shpancer, N. (2022, January 1). Is Mental Health Stigma Decreasing? It’s Complicated. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/insight-therapy/202201/is-mental-health-stigma-decreasing-it-s-complicated
Susman, D. (2019, March 13). 5 Steps to Reduce Stigma About Mental Illness. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-recovery-coach/201903/5-steps-reduce-stigma-about-mental-illness
Zoppi, L. (2020, November 9). What is mental health stigma?. Medical News Today. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/mental-health-stigma