The Importance of Removing the Stigmas of Mental Health Disorders

Mental health is just as important as physical health. We may think that we are doing okay if our heart, lungs, and bodily systems function correctly. But, if we are depressed or anxious, it can be difficult to enjoy our good health. What’s more, poor mental health can lead to physical conditions that further reduce the quality of life.

Because mental health is so essential, its critical to get help if you are experiencing a temporary or ongoing issue. But the stigmas attached to disorders prevent people from seeking reaching out. When this occurs, individuals dealing with these conditions may go on a downward spiral leading to poor health, addiction, and even suicide.

So, the question is, what can we, as a society, do to reduce mental health stigmas? Read on to find out.

What are the Various Types of Stigmas?

Stigmas come in a variety of forms, including:

Public stigmaThis describes the negative and discriminatory attitudes many people have toward individuals with mental illness.

Self-stigmaThis refers to the negative attitude a person dealing with a mental disorder may feel about their own condition.

Institutional stigmaThis comes from private and public institutions that discriminate against people with mental disorders by limiting opportunities or providing fewer resources for those affected.

Stigmas often develop from a lack of understanding and feelings of fear. In some instances, they may be supported culturally. For example, in Asian communities, mental illness may be associated with shame and weakness.

Mental illness stigmas may be further enforced by the media. For example, the movie The Joker showed a person with mental illness becoming extremely violent. A study showed that the film was “associated with higher levels of prejudice toward those with mental illness.”

Overcoming Stigma

Fortunately, recent efforts have brought increased awareness concerning the harm of mental health stigmas. Here are some of the ways people and organizations are making a change.

Education

Mental health stigmas often develop because people don’t understand disorders. They receive misinformation that feeds negative perceptions. For example, many believe that people with mental illness are more likely to commit violent crimes.

Educational programs aim to counter negative stereotypes by replacing them with factual information. They can be conducted on any scale ranging from local to national. They have been found to combat both public and self-stigma. Educational interventions have also been shown to be effective in acceptance and commitment therapy which uses acceptance and mindfulness to reverse self-stigmas.

Connections and Networking

Stigmas can be overcome through connection. As it stands, people without mental health conditions have little contact with those dealing with disorders. This lack of contact promotes feelings of fear and distrust.

More recently, people, including many well-known celebrities, have been coming forward to talk about their experience with mental illness. This type of communication has been shown to increase understanding and acceptance. It has also caused people dealing with disorders to become empowered, encouraging them to step forward to get the help they need.

There are various avenues for connection, including in-person, video, and online, with online being most appealing for younger generations. These online connections can also offer increased privacy to an individual who may be battling a self-stigma with regard to seeking help, as they can occur within the individual’s home or another place where the person feels most comfortable.

Peer Services

Peer services involve people with mental health issues taking on the role of therapist. The people providing help are aware of their peers’ issues and can provide assistance with a nonjudgmental, nondiscriminatory approach. This type of in-person contact is found to be effective in changing attitudes and reducing stigmas.

In recent times, efforts have been made to professionalize peer services through a certification process. This may improve the quality of care people are receiving.

Protest and Advocacy

Protest and advocacy can be used to promote civil rights for people dealing with mental health issues. Protestors and advocates may use strategies such as boycotts, demonstrations, petitions, and letter writing to promote their cause. This can help individuals who want to remove mental health stigmas but are unaware of the avenues of change available to them.

Advocates typically target politicians, business owners, and the press to suppress negative attitudes on mental health. In some cases, they may call for legislative reform that provides equal rights and promotes access to helpful resources.

Conclusion

Mental health needs to be prioritized. This can be difficult to do if stigmas exist in our society.

Fortunately, awareness has been raised regarding the harm of mental health stigma, and action is being taken. This comes in the form of education, forging connections, and peer services. What will you do to join in the fight to suppress negative attitudes towards mental disorders?

Dr. Alddo Molinar is an anesthesiologist, based in Martins Ferry, OH, who received his medical degree from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School.