What is stigma?
Stigma is defined as a mark of disgrace which discerns one person from another.
Mental health stigma is apparent through the discrimination, stereotypes and prejudice surrounding mental illnesses and are believed by many in our society. Such stigma includes social exclusion as well as negative views such as those with a mental illness are dangerous, dramatic or overly sensitive.
Stigma still surrounds mental illnesses due to people’s lack of knowledge, understanding, negative attitudes and discriminatory behaviour.
How does stigma impact mental health?
According to Mental Health Ireland, there are 450 million people world-wide suffering from a mental illness. 450 million, yet mental health is still attached to a social stigma and ignored by many.
This stigma leads to isolation, people feeling devalued and it also leads to people concealing their mental health difficulties. Many are afraid to get the help they need in the fear of what people will say or in the fear that no one will understand or help due to the stigma experienced not only in society but among peoples’ friends, family and employers. We must remember people don't ask for their illnesses, learning to manage and live with a mental illness becomes more difficult when someone must also continuously fight against the prejudice and stigma pushed upon them by society.
Labelling is a large part of the stigma surrounding mental health. These negative labels include psycho, weird, insane and unpredictable. These negative views and stigma attached to mental health largely influences the belief that we should not talk about our mental health.
Many people believe those with a mental health problem should simply ‘get over it’. Such views exist because mental health is an issue that it not always physically seen, it can be invisible in comparison to a broken arm or leg, so it is easier for people to pretend it does not exist.
Another stereotype affecting those with mental health is 'being the type' that has a mental illness. People tend to have an image of what type of person suffers from a mental illness when in fact anyone can experience it. Those with a mental illness may be afraid to talk because they believe they should not feel the way they are because they are not the 'type' to have such an illness. We tend to forget mental health is common today because it is not talked about enough.
Breaking the Stigma
Stigma is our separation from reality, the reality where we all experience mental health issues at one time or another. A reality where we all worry or feel depressed, but people don’t want to admit it because stigma suggests it means we are weak.
We live in a society where many believe speaking out about our mental health equals attention seeking, where having a panic attack is seen as dramatic, where anxiety means you are too sensitive.
We need to create a society where people realise mental health does not determine who we are, it does not mean someone is dangerous or insane. We are not our mental health illnesses.
We need to create a dynamic in which it is okay to ask for help. We need to create a society where we can talk about our mental health and not be stigmatised or made to feel ashamed. We need to foster a culture where it is okay to ask for help, where it is seen as strength rather than a failure or weakness.
Remember you are not your mental illness. Your mental health does not make you a failure, but it shows your strength by learning to manage it and live with it. It shows strength by realising its okay not to be okay.
Listen to the audio illusion below to find out more about how it feels to experience both mental health and the stigma attached to it: