Researchers report two distinct types of mental health stigma - social stigma and self- stigma. Social stigma results from prejudice attitudes and discriminatory actions that target individuals with mental health issues due to the assignment of psychiatric labels. Self-stigma, on the other hand, is characterized by one’s internalization of perceptions of discrimination.
A number of factors contribute to stigma. Historically, individuals with mental health concerns have been treated differently, rejected and abused. Dr. Graham Davey, a British professor of Psychology, notes that this kind of treatment stems from mistaken views that mental health problems steer people to act in more violent or unpredictable ways than those without such problems, or somehow people with mental health concerns are abnormal or different. However, none of these views have any basis in fact. Dr. Davey also includes the medical model as an unintentional source of stigmatizing beliefs, as this model usually signifies diagnoses and diagnoses implies a label to a “patient.” Such labels are often associated with undesirable attributes, which perpetuate the idea that individuals with mental illness and/or diagnostic labels should be viewed with concern.
It’s no surprise that the most blatant perpetuation of mental illness stigma is at the hands of the media, as media portrayals often reinforce stigma with images of violence and homicide associated with mental health problems. Discussions concerning mass shootings and mental illness almost go hand in hand these days. Moreover, words used to represent mental illness are so common in our present-day vocabularies they almost always pass without comment or judgment. Psycho. Nut-job. Crazy. Insane. He’s lost his mind. She has some serious OCD. The list continues.
For some, the nastiest consequences of stigma aren’t social injustices but the effect stigma has on help seeking behavior of those affected by mental health problems. The Scattergood Foundation reports a mere 30% to 40% of people with mental health problems seek treatment in the U.S., and up to 70% of adults and youth worldwide do not receive services for mental and behavioral health problems. Public health researchers attribute stigma as a major causative factor driving these alarmingly low rates of treatment. Moreover, stigma hurts treatment outcomes and hinders effective recovery from mental health problems.
The good news is, there are many simple actions we can all take to help challenge mental illness stigma which include:
- Be respectful. Use courteous and considerate language. Avoid using from derogatory language and correct people when you hear the use of such words and phrases. As mention earlier, unintentional yet derogatory words such as “crazy” or “insane” aid in the maintenance of stigma. I know I’m guilty of this one.
- Talk about mental wellbeing and mental illness. Educate yourself and teach others when opportunities arise.
- Get to know people who have experienced mental health problems.
- Offer support to those who are experiencing mental health problems.
- Speak up about your own experiences. The more concealed mental illness remains, the more people continue to believe that it is shameful and should be hidden.