Stigma is defined as “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.”
Let’s focus on the person. And the circumstance. Mental health, problematic mental health.
Unfortunately, much that surrounds mental health problems carries a busload of misunderstanding amongst the public, with negative beliefs and attitudes piling up with nothing of substance to support them.
Detrimental Stigma Effects
Harmful effects of stigma can include:
- Discrimination, direct and very evident
- Discrimination, subtle, even unintentional
- Alienation, the “seen as others” effect
- The perception of being actually or potentially harmful, dangerous
- Lack of understanding or willingness to understand
- Diminished work, hiring, social, school, career and safe housing opportunities
- Irresponsible or untrustworthy, the way mental health patients are etiquette from the get go
- Heightened possibilities of being criminalized, rather than offered care services
- Bullying and harassment
- Insufficient health coverage, which does not insure the specific brand of mental illness
- Rejection or the fear of rejection, to the point where many mental health patients forego opportunities for advancement
- Insecurity and freezing, such as the belief that they will not succeed against certain challenges and their condition and situation will not improve or the internalization of the stigma itself, curtailing their hopes for recovery
- Discomfort in talking to others, even those closest, about their condition
NAMI: Sign the Pledge
In order to curb this very poignant and harmful status, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is asking everyone out there to take their StigmaFree Pledge. Click on the ‘SIGN THE PLEDGE’ button at the bottom of this page.
Hoping to attract a critical mass of individuals, businesses, kindred associations, federal and state officials, organizations, campuses, churches and many more in the web that sews society together, their aim is to proactively educate both the public and the mental health patients and successfully push forward this pledge.
As an example, their first attempt is to convince the public that everyone has a role to play. Their ask?
Use respectful language when addressing mental health conditions. Actively challenge misconceptions when you see or hear them. Look and see the person, not the condition. Offer support if you sense someone is in trouble.
NAMI believes we should be avoiding disconcerting and aggressive tags and labels to the tune of challenged, crazy, demented, lunatic, normal/not normal, psycho, schizo, schizoid, cuckoo, special, victim, sufferer, wacko and the like.
Instead, focus on using respectful and inclusive language that, nevertheless, does not deviate one inch from the truth. As such, instead of saying someone is bipolar, or schizophrenic, or manic depressive, opt for he or she is a person who has XXX (he has bipolar disorder) or is living with XXX (she is living with manic depression). Similarly, instead of the mentally ill choose to say people with mental illness or with a menta health condition. Here’s another one: instead of committed suicide, you might say died by suicide.
Coping with Stigma
Here’s a few strategies and avenues of hope around dealing with personal and societal stigma.
- Get treated. Find out what’s wrong and reduce the symptoms.
- Ban self-doubt and shame. Stigma is in you as much as it is in others. Overcome destructive tendencies by seeking consultation and the support of others.
- Don’t isolate yourself. Reach out to people who offer compassion, understanding and support.
- You are not your illness. Don’t mirror. Heed the labels recommendations of NAMI.
- Join a support group. Federal, state, city, municipal, local, whichever one fits you.
- Get help at school: Talk to teachers, leaders and administrators about your best approach if your child has mental health illness.
- Speak out. Express views, scientific literature, and feelings that challenge the status quo and get people in the right track.