“Snap out of it.” “Cheer up!” “What’s wrong with you?” “Stop being so dramatic.” “Get over it already.”
Hearing these phrases while struggling to maintain positive mental health is detrimental. Our words have power, and the language we choose stems from deep-rooted beliefs and biases. We must be cautious that our word choices don’t further marginalize individuals living with any condition or illness.
There are currently 970 million people living with mental health disorders worldwide. Despite this staggering number, stigma remains one of the top reasons people hesitate to seek help.
Let’s explore the following questions:
What is stigma, and why is it harmful? And how can we overcome stigma when seeking mental health treatment?
What is Stigma?
Stigma is a set of destructive and unfair beliefs held by a society or group about something. Those living with mental health conditions face additional obstacles due to these negative beliefs. Not only do they live with the day-to-day challenges of managing their symptoms, but they are also navigating the harmful effects of judgment and prejudice toward their condition.
Having to face societal discrimination can lead to an individual internalizing these negative viewpoints, leading to lowered self-esteem.
Types of Stigmas
When it comes to mental health stigma, there are two categories in which these biases are often organized: self-stigma and public stigma. A study on stigma from 2002 dives deep into these two categories. Let’s break down their findings:
- Public Stigma refers to the general population’s response to people living with mental illness. This type of stigma can come in different forms, such as stereotypes, prejudices, and discriminatory behaviors. Society may view someone struggling with mental illness as “weak” or “incompetent.” This stereotype can lead individuals to act on these thoughts through discriminatory behavior, such as withholding an individual’s access to opportunities or avoiding the person altogether.
- Self-stigma refers to the discrimination that people living with mental illness internalize. Just like the public can stigmatize individuals struggling with mental illness, those individuals themselves can internalize the same negative biases. This stigma may look like someone developing low self-esteem or failing to seek opportunities because they think they’re unworthy. No matter what they face, every person deserves a life filled with joy and prosperity.
Impact of Stigma
The effects of stigma can be wildly damaging. Stigma can make people with mental health conditions feel invalidated, exacerbating the symptoms of their illness. There are also far-reaching consequences when stigma infiltrates healthcare policy and access to care. Whether policies themselves are destructive or a person experiencing self-stigma feels reluctant to seek help, not receiving proper treatment for a mental health condition can severely worsen the chances of healing. People who encounter the negative impacts of stigma are more likely to face:
- Social rejection
- Increased feelings of shame
- Delayed treatment
- Bullying or violence
- Poor quality of life
Stigma When Seeking Mental Health Treatment
Approximately one in four Americans express challenges with their mental or emotional health, but only 25% seek help. Mental illness-related stigma is a significant barrier for those wanting to engage in treatment. Perhaps it’s time for a shift in mindset.
Caring for our mental health is equally important as caring for our physical health. For example, if we fall and injure ourselves, we’d schedule an appointment with a doctor or go to the hospital. Or if one year had passed since our last annual checkup, we’d know it’s time to schedule another one.
When it comes to physical health, we typically engage in preventive care and diagnostic care without experiencing shame, fear, or embarrassment. It’s time to start placing the same value on mental healthcare.
Tips for Overcoming Stigma
First and foremost, we must remember that seeking mental health treatment does not necessarily mean you have a severe mental illness. Life challenges or difficult transitions can negatively impact your ability to cope and manage daily demands, which is a great reason to seek additional support as you navigate a difficult time.
It is not uncommon for individuals to report feeling anxious or embarrassed when seeking mental health treatment. Common questions people may ask themselves are, “What if someone sees me going into a therapist’s office,” “What will people say about me if they find out I’m in treatment,” or “Does going to a mental health clinic mean something is wrong with me?”
If you’re struggling with similar internal thoughts, consider a few of the following ideas to help overcome the impact of stigma when wanting to seek treatment:
- Asking for help shows strength, not weakness. It is courageous to acknowledge that you need assistance with something instead of bottling it up or pretending that everything is okay.
- Writing down your concerns can help you process what you’re feeling. If it feels challenging to speak about your struggles aloud, try writing them down first. Set aside time to privately scribble out everything that is bothering you and what is holding you back from taking action. Reflect on what you wrote, and if you want to ask for help but can’t bring yourself to call someone, try sending your thoughts in a letter or email as a first step. You don’t have to do everything all at once if you don’t want to.
- Remember that you are not alone in your experience. Remember the whopping number of people currently living with a mental health condition? Despite the persistent stigma, experiencing emotional and mental difficulties is not uncommon. In fact, by seeking help, you may inspire someone else in your life to do the same. And who knows, it may help you realize there is another person in your life who is ready to go on a healing journey alongside you.
Other Ways to Combat Stigma
In closing, fellow experts at the National Alliance of Mental Illness share a few additional ways to fight mental health stigma so that more and more people can overcome barriers to seeking treatment:
- Talk openly about mental health.
- Educate yourself and those around you.
- Be conscious of the language you use.
- Fight for equality among physical and mental health treatment.
- Show compassion to those with a mental health condition.
- Work towards reframing shame into empowerment.
- Hold the media accountable when they’re stigmatizing or shaming mental illness.
- Surround yourself with loved ones who support and encourage you.
- Lean into joy—art, music, friends, whatever makes you happy.
It is paramount that we work together in raising our voices against mental health stigma. Experience stigma is an outrageous addition to the pain individuals may already face. For you or those you love, let us come together to create an inclusive world where we can all live free of shame and seek the support we deserve.
New Dimensions Can Help!
If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the above symptoms or problems, New Dimensions can help. Our team of experienced therapists and psychiatrists can help you overcome these challenges and help you develop the skills you need to thrive. To schedule a complementary assessment or to find out more about our programs, contact us at 1-800-685-9796.
Our affiliate, MHThrive, provides Individual Therapy, Couples and Marriage Counseling, and Family Therapy at our locations in Katy, The Woodlands, and the Clear Lake area of Houston, Texas. We also provide telehealth therapy for anyone who resides within the State of Texas. To schedule an appointment with one of the MHThrive therapists, contact us at 713-477-0333 or visit www.mhthrive.com to learn more.