What is a stigma?
” 1 a: a mark of shame or discredit: STAIN
b: plural usually stigmata: an identifying mark or characteristic specifically: a specific diagnostic sign of a disease”
Stigmas are a defining mark or characteristic that sets someone apart from the group. They are a negative attitude or belief toward a certain group of people that we perceive to be different from ourselves. This stigma can cause us to be afraid or wary and can lead to discrimination.
Stigma in mental health
Those in a stigmatized population can experience isolation, discrimination, fewer opportunities in the workplace, verbal abuse, bullying, negative and misleading labels, and fear or mistrust from others.
If you have the fortune of never having to struggle with a mental illness, then you may not be able to understand or empathize with those who do.
Stigma shames those with mental illness, but mental illness is a condition just like any other medical condition. Would you ever shame someone for having diabetes? No. In like manner, we shouldn’t shame those who struggle with mental illness.
Stigma in mental illness is very common and can vary depending on the mental illness. These stigmas may be deliberate attitudes/beliefs that others choose to make or can be the by-product of ignorance.
Some examples of stigma in mental illness are:
- ADD/ADHD: Those who struggle with ADD or ADHD might be labeled as lazy, as having a short attention span, or too energetic. They might be labeled as stupid because they struggle to pay attention in school and therefore get bad grades.
- SUBSTANCE ABUSE: Someone with a substance abuse disorder might be labeled as a low-life or unmotivated. Others may think they choose to partake of the substance that they abuse and don’t realize that to them, it is a need or compulsion.
- TRAUMA: Those with trauma-related disorders might be thought of as dramatic, attention seeking, or exaggerators. People may tell them that they just need to “Get over it,” and move on.
- DEPRESSION: Those with depression might be labeled as isolated, moody, or negative. Others may think of them as insensitive or not capable of being in a relationship or friendship. Others tell them to be more positive and grateful and their mood will turn around. This tells them that it’s all in their head.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) stated:
“Stigma causes people to feel ashamed for something that is out of their control. Worst of all, stigma prevents people from seeking the help they need. For a group of people who already carry such a heavy burden, stigma is an unacceptable addition to their pain. And while stigma has reduced in recent years, the pace of progress has not been quick enough.”
How can we reduce it?
For those who don’t struggle with mental illness:
- Educate yourself about mental illness. Mental illness isn’t just emotional, but also very biological in nature.
- Be more aware of the harmful things you may ignorantly say to those who struggle with mental illness.
- Be an advocate and a friend to those with mental illness.
- Create a safe dialogue around the topic.
For those who struggle with mental illness:
- Don’t define yourself by your mental illness. It is something you struggle with, not a definition of who you are.
- Get help/treatment. Trained professionals will be able to help you with the struggles you are facing and you never have to go through it alone.
- Join a support group.
- Don’t be ashamed of your mental illness. Create dialogue in the community.
Education and Help
Here are some websites that have information concerning mental health, treatment options, and other tips on how to live with mental illness.