1 in 4 people experience mental health problems during their lifespan. When we assume how these problems will affect their behaviour, we are increasing the chances of these individuals being singled out or labelled as different, strange or dangerous. This is what we would call stigma. Whereas, treating someone differently from others because of their mental health — consciously or unconsciously — is called discrimination. People with mental illnesses often experience stigma and discrimination that can be worse than the illness itself. In every set of 10 people, 9 experience stigmatisation and discrimination from the society.
Mental health stigmas can be divided into two specific types: (a) social stigma, which is characterised by prejudiced attitudes, and (b) behavioural stigma, that is discriminatory towards individuals suffering from mental illnesses as a result of the psychiatric label given to them. Perceived stigma or self-stigma is the internalising of the perceptions of discrimination which can lead to poor treatment outcomes and affect feelings of shame.
The stigmatisation of beliefs about individuals with mental health problems is held by a broad range of individuals within society. Those having such a mindset are likely to be living in a community where asking for help might lead to ostracisation, or they might come from a cultural background in which seeking psychological help is termed and perceived as a weakness. Also, certain individuals who themselves suffer from mental illness tend to experience feelings of shame about seeking help.
The social stigma associated with mental health has multiple causes. For as long as one can remember, people with mental health problems have been treated differently, excluded and sometimes, even brutalised. This may be an outcome of misguided views that individuals hold, thinking that people with mental illnesses may be violent, unpredictable, different or might possess a threat to the people around them. However, none of these beliefs have any basis in reality. Furthermore, the diagnosis of an individual with mental health problems attaches specific labels to them. These labels may be associated with undesirable attributes and this, in turn, perpetuates the view that people with mental health problems are different and should be treated with caution. The impact of these stigmas is tragic as mental health is serious and should not be ignored.
One can choose to curb the social stigma around mental health by educating, protesting or making contact with society and creating an awareness within the public, among many other ways. The first step would be to educate the people at large about mental disorders. Education provides them with the general and basic information they need so that they can make sound judgements on matters concerning mental health problems. Changing the way media portrays the mentally-ill can have a large effect on the public. Mental illness is treated as something that people don’t talk about. Encouraging individuals with mental disorders to share their stories may help to break the silence surrounding mental health. Other ways to help dismantle the stigma around mental health include encouraging equal treatment for mental and physical illnesses, talking openly about mental health, being conscious of one’s language and promoting mental health reforms and funds.
Stigma and its consequences are the major obstacles to the improvement of mental health and mental health care. The reduction of stigmatisation and discrimination will help people with mental illness, their families and the societies in which they live. It will also ennoble our societies and make them more civilised, sensitive, helpful and inclusive.
Anoushka Thakkar is a Research Associate (Mental Health) at One Future Collective.
First Published at One Future Collective.