Challenging the Mental Health Stigma: You are NOT Your Condition

Sadly, negative beliefs and attitudes towards those who have a mental health condition do exist. A negative stereotype, or stigma can result in subtle discrimination, such as someone with a mental health condition being avoided due to assumptions that the person is unstable or dangerous, or more blatant discrimination, like saying something unkind about that person’s condition or treatment. Those with a mental health condition may even judge their selves. Stigmas tend to come from a lack of understanding, rather than facts.

According to the National Association on Mental Illness (NAMI), stigma harms 1 out of 5 Americans affected by mental health conditions, shaming them into silence and preventing them from seeking help. The following are just a few effects of mental health stigma:

  • Less than half of the adults in the United States who need services and treatment get the help that they need.
  • The average delay between onset of symptoms and intervention is 8 to 10 years.
  • The second leading cause of death among youth ages 15-24 and the tenth leading cause of death for all Americans is suicide.

Here are some ways mental health stigma can be dealt with, as suggested by Mayo Clinic:

  • Get treatment. A person with a mental health condition might hesitate in admitting that he or she needs treatment. Do not let fear of being “labeled” with a mental illness prevent you from getting help.
  • Don’t let stigma create self-doubt or shame. A person may mistakenly believe that his or her condition indicates weakness or that they should be able to control the condition on their own. Participating in counseling, educating yourself about your illness and connecting with others who have mental illness can help overcome destructive self-judgment.
  • Don’t isolate. A person who has a mental illness may be hesitant to tell anyone. Reach out to people you trust for compassion, support and understanding.
  • Don’t equate yourself with your illness. A person is NOT an illness. You are NOT your illness.
  • Join a support group. Some local and national groups offer programs that help reduce stigma by educating those who have mental illness, their families and the general public. Some state and federal agencies also offer support.
  • Get help at school. Discrimination against students due to mental illness is against the law, and educators at primary, secondary and college levels are required to accommodate students as best they can. Talk to teachers, professors or administrators about the best approach and available resources.
  • Speak out against stigma.  It can inspire courage in others facing similar challenges and educate the public about mental illness. 

By: Gina Pellrine, LMSW

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