Researchers, celebrities, and communities have taken great strides toward destroying negative perceptions surrounding mental health and mental illness in recent years. Have their efforts translated into real, measurable progress in overcoming the stigma?
The Harm Stigmas Cause To Those With Mental Illnesses
People with mental health conditions often have to live behind a veil of negative stigmas and hurtful perceptions from society. They may learn to feel ashamed of their conditions or to think that something is wrong with them. Some may feel like they are to blame for their mental health disorders, as if there was something they could have done differently to prevent it. Social media can increase the stigma. Excessive use can increase feelings of depression and discontent. Making a change in how you perceive and talk about mental illness could help others.
Suicide Rate Is High Among Those With Mental Illnesses
Mental illness is already a heavy burden for someone to bear without additional judgment or scrutiny from others. The negative stigma could push someone with a mental illness to actions such as self-harm or suicide. In fact, 90% of people who die by suicide have underlying mental illnesses. Failing to seek help for a mental illness could make someone feel alone in his or her struggle, ultimately contributing to anxiety and depression. Over time, living with this burden can prove too difficult for the individual.
The stigma surrounding mental illness often leads to discrimination against people with official diagnoses. Although federal law prohibits discrimination based on a disability such as a mental illness, employers and coworkers all too often treat workers or job applicants differently because of their mental illnesses. Sadly, many who face discrimination never see justice. They may lose job opportunities or face wrongful termination after an employer discovers a mental health issue. This is just one of many examples of the real power stigmas behind mental illness.
Refusal To Seek Help
The negative stigma can lead to many people who struggle with mental illnesses to be too scared or embarrassed to seek help. In fact, despite around 43.8 million adults experiencing mental illness per year, 60% do not receive mental health services. People with mental illnesses often suffer in silence with their illnesses, rather than receiving treatment and medications that could change their lives for the better. Many are even too afraid to reach out for help amongst their friends or family members, for fear of what they will think or how they will react. Living silently with a mental illness could lead an individual irrevocably down a dark path.
Progress In The Mental Illness Realm
In the last decade, the world has taken steps toward eliminating the mental illness stigma. Australia, for example, has been reforming its mental health laws, with the government recognizing that mental health should benefit from modern regulation. The laws in Australia now require others to respect the treatment decisions people with mental illnesses make, as much as possible. This can protect people from involuntarily institutionalization and inappropriate mental health treatment in many scenarios.
In America, mental health and illness laws are not as progressive. However, the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 ensured people receive the same amount of benefits for mental health treatment as physical health treatment. It required health insurance companies to offer the same amount of both to policyholders. The act made it possible for people struggling with mental illnesses to find more affordable mental health care, if they were willing to seek treatment.
Many celebrities have also taken strides toward eliminating the mental illness stigma. Celebrities such as Demi Lovato, Lady Gaga, Emma Watson, Lili Reinhart, and Glenn Close have supported the mental illness community with public talks, speeches, and posts about mental health. The UK’s Royal Family has also helped normalize mental health, with efforts such as the Heads Together campaign. Celebrities talking about mental health and wellness can help shatter the stigma and get others talking about it, too. Seeing that successful, well-known celebrities also suffer from mental illnesses can help others come to terms with their issues.
How To Fight The Mental Health Stigma
It is too soon to tell exactly how steps in the last decades have measurably helped those living with mental illnesses. Yet overall, there has undeniably been a positive change in terms of openly discussing mental health topics in America. More open discussions about mental illness can help break the stigma and correct common misconceptions about living with anxiety, depression, or other mental health problems. You can do your part by helping to fight stigmas in your daily life.
Talk Openly About It With Others
Discuss mental health and illnesses openly with those close to you. This can include children, a spouse, friends, and coworkers. Talking about mental health is the first step toward normalizing the topic. Discuss mental wellness as you would physical wellness with your kids and others. Not talking about it can make children feel like there is something wrong with talking about mental health, or that there is something wrong with them for experiencing mental health problems.
Spread Education And Awareness
Misinformation is a major contributor to the stigma surrounding mental illness. Misinformed people may assume the wrong things about mental illness, such as that it stems from a weakness of character, or that it means an employee is unfit for a job. The misinformation that mental illness is incurable, for example, could cause a great deal of damage in families and communities.
Spreading facts and accurate information about mental illness can help normalize the topic and help others see those with mental illnesses as no different from themselves. Start a mental health awareness group at your school or organization. Post bulletins in your local community center, or start a support group on Facebook. Do your best to get your community to start talking about mental illness, as a first step toward a solution to care.
Change Starts With You
The mental illness stigma hasn’t disappeared yet, but people and lawmakers today are taking steps in the right direction. Do your part to end the negative stigma surrounding mental illness by getting more comfortable talking about it and starting conversations about mental health and wellness in your circle. Don’t let the stigma prevent you or a loved one from seeking the help you need. Real change starts with you.