To say that mental health and mental illnesses are plagued by stigma is a gross understatement. Yet, after one of the most successful decades into looking at neurology, we still see poor mental health and mental illness as a form of personal weakness and indulgence. This stigma that we put on people (or even ourselves) could shame them or others into not seeking treatment. Even if they do seek treatment, they can go through a nightmarish lonely recovery.
To stigmatise is to place a negative stereotype on people. While certain stereotypes, like “all Asians are good at math and science”, might be questionable, some are worse than we think. Stereotypes that we often overlook include:
- Gender Profiling – Women can’t do as good of a job as a man. A hot button issue involving the wage gap and what women can and cannot do.
- Cultural – Mexican stereotypes suggest that all Mexicans are lazy and go to America illegally. Made (in)famous by Donald Trump.
- Against Groups of Individuals – All teenagers are rebels. The elderly have health issues and behave like children.
- Sexual – Any feminine man is gay and any masculine woman is a lesbian. Those who believe gay stereotypes may also believe that homosexuality is immoral, wrong and an abomination.
While these examples might not be relevant to everyone, it is pervasive to say that stigma does not exist. Almost every culture or race has a stereotype, including Jewish people, Blacks, Irish people, and Polish people, among others. Stigma is often born from an assumption of what we think some people do.
Stereotyping is not only hurtful, it is also wrong. Even if the stereotype is correct in some cases, constantly putting someone down based on your preconceived pereptions will not encourage them to succeed.
Stereotyping can lead to bullying form a young age. Jocks and Preps pick on the Nerds and the Geeks; Skaters pick on the Goths, so on and so forth. Stereotyping is encouraging bullying behavior that children carry into adulthood.
Stereotyping can also lead people to live lives driven by hate, and can cause the victims of those stereotypes to be driven by fear. For example, many gays and lesbians are afraid to admit their sexuality in fear of being judged. It is a lose-lose situation, both for those who are doing the stereotype and those who are victims.
To say that all Mexicans in America are illegal immigrants and criminals means that we forget the fact that only some fit that description. Those who don’t are still seen as illegals and criminals, which might affect how they see themselves and how they live their lives. This is also true for mental health and mental illnesses.
Mental = Physical Illnesses
Mental illnesses are as real as any other physical illness. Depression, often caused by improper stress management by the body, is as biological as diabetes. But just because we don’t see our friends taking medicine because their pancreases aren’t secreting insulin, we cannot discount depression – which has been scientifically proven that has a higher susceptibility in some with a certain gene. Mental illnesses are as real of a biological disorder than diabetes.
We don’t see that many of times. We see mental and physical illnesses as separate entities. And that is why we see those with mental illnesses differently.
Over 80% endorse the statement that “most people are embarrassed by mentally ill people”, and about 30% agreeing “I am embarrassed by mentally ill persons”.
Effects of Shaming the Mentally Ill
People with mental health problems say that the social stigma attached to mental ill health and the discrimination they experience can make their difficulties worse and make it harder to recover.
This act of shaming those with mental illnesses for having mental illnesses directly correlates to their ability and will to recover. It doesn’t take a scientist or researcher to tell that our shaming is a bad thing.
Many people’s problems are made worse by the stigma and discrimination they experience - “from society, but also from families, friends and employers.” Nearly nine out of ten people with mental health problems say that stigma and discrimination have a negative effect on their lives.
Why does shame still exist?
This is because society, in general, has stereotyped views about mental illness and how it affects people. Many people believe that people with mental ill health are violent and dangerous, when in fact they are more at risk of being attacked or harming themselves than harming other people.
Stigma and discrimination can also worsen someone’s mental health problems, and delay or impede their getting help and treatment, and their recovery. Social isolation, poor housing, unemployment and poverty are all linked to mental ill health. So stigma and discrimination can trap people in a cycle of illness.
So your stigmatisation and shaming of those with mental illness do more than show your discomfort for those with such illnesses. It might cause these people to self-stigmatise and delay or put away getting help. Instead of helping them, this act might cause their mental illnesses to become worse and prevent them from seeking treatment again.
Want to help your friend or family member on their road to recovery, or to lessen stigma in our everyday lives? We have some tips for you on our Mental Health 101 page.
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