It will not come as a surprise to anyone to know that there has always been a considerable amount of social stigma associated with mental health issues and all types of psychological problems. Such stigma can affect patients as well as their caregivers in a plethora of negative ways.
The Stigma Surrounding Mental Illnesses
But first let us take a look at the foundational question underlying this issue that we are about to discuss today. What do I mean by the term ‘stigma’?
Very simply, a person is being stigmatized when they are viewed negatively by an individual or a group of people because of a distinguishing trait or characteristic that they have. This distinguishing characteristic is often thought to be (or may even actually be) a disadvantage.
This creates and perpetuates a negative perception of the individual in the minds of the people around them. Eventually, such perception may lead to the creation of negative stereotypes. And anyone who has ever suffered from a mental illness will be well aware of all the negative stereotypes and perceptions associated with their condition.
The Connection between Social Stigma and Discrimination
The stigma surrounding mental health can often lead to both subtle and overt discrimination. Such discrimination can be of various kinds and come from various quarters. It can range from the direct and aggressive to the subtle and insidious.
Someone avoiding you (even subconsciously) because of their preconceived notions of mental illness is as much discrimination as someone making a negative remark about your condition or treatment initiatives. Discrimination may not always be malicious or even intentional, but it is just as harmful regardless of the intentions of the person perpetuating it.
The media, as well as society in general, have spread certain inaccurate notions and ideas about mental illness, such as the fact that people suffering from such illnesses are likely to be unstable, volatile, and violent. And while this may be true for certain types of conditions, it is certainly not true for a majority of patients suffering from psychological conditions.
The Effects of Stigma and Discrimination
This type of stigma can have a terrible impact on those suffering from mental health issues. To begin with, it can make the patient feel guilty about their illness. They may in turn feel ashamed when talking about their problems and consequently refuse to seek help, because of these feelings of fear, shame and guilt imposed upon them by society.
Stigma and discrimination breed reluctance among patients to seek much-needed medical help, which only serves to exacerbate the problem in the long term. A lack of understanding and empathy from friends, family, and colleagues can make patients feel pressured to hide their problems from the world.
This might cause feelings of isolation and despair, pushing the person closer to the edge with every passing day. Bullying, harassment, and violence can also be some of the more negative outcomes of wide-spread stereotypes and stigma.
The more patients with mental health conditions are bullied and stereotyped, the less they want to come out and talk openly about their problems. This in turn only leads to worsening of the symptoms, causing a downward spiral which may be impossibly hard to recover from.
This is why patients must seek professional help as soon as possible and contact a trusted and reputed online therapist or counsellor, who will be able to provide them with the care and treatment they need. Government and private institutions must also take steps to spread awareness regarding mental health issues so as to minimize the impact of stereotypes and misinformation.