Mental Health Stigma: It’s Not What You Say, But How You Say It

Mental Health Stigma: It's Not What You Say, But How You Say It

Mental Health Stigma: It’s Not What You Say, But How You Say It

Mental health organizations, such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) work tirelessly to help educate society about the mental health stigma. But until society learns better communication, any effort will fail. Because there is no amount of information, medication, outreach services, or special events that can fix a broken society if it’s communication is perpetually negative.

Social Stigma: Lack of Education and Compassion

Education begins with communication. But some people feel like discussing mental health is taboo, too personal, and that those who suffer from a mental illness need to handle their issues in private.

But why is that? So that society can stay comfortable while the person affected keeps suffering alone?

News flash: You can’t catch a mental illness just by talking about it.

The social stigma not only hinders communication but also reinforces society’s ignorance and lack of compassion towards mental illnesses. And we see the effects in the way society treats mentally ill people.

  • discriminatory actions against mental health patients while in society, or while at the workplace;
  • family and friends pushing the use of medication as a way to control a mentally ill person, while offering little to no additional support;
  • (social) media using and sharing offensive language, cruel jokes, or misleading videos to describe a person’s mentally ill behavior

Unfortunately, we can’t control every person’s behavior, but we can control how communication is shared and received.

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Self-Stigma: Misperception and Internalizing Issues

There are two parts to the self-stigma, which also limits communication about mental illnesses. The first part is misperception.

Why do some people feel uneasy talking about mental health? Are they afraid that another person’s anxiety, depression, or schizophrenia might rub off on them like a virus or bacteria?

Yes, sometimes just talking about the effects of mental illness can provoke unwanted memories, or trigger anxiety in people. But this type of reaction is personal, and not a general rule. Mental illnesses are not contagious, but communication is, and likely to help a situation.

News Flash: Refusing to talk about a mental illness won’t make it go away.

The second part of the self-stigma is internalizing issues. Mental health is just as important as physical health, but many people still refuse diagnosis or treatment.

Nobody wants to feel judged, labeled, stereotyped, ostracized, or ridiculed by society. So, instead of asking for help, many people internalize their mental health issues to avoid conflict with the rest of society. Other people develop unhealthy coping techniques. They bottle up their emotions, or they self-medicate with drugs and alcohol. But neither solution works forever, and can make some mental illness even worse.

Mental Health Stigma: Words Mean Everything

Almost everything a person learns about him/herself comes from an outside source(s). Friends, family, teachers, (social) media, and even doctors can have a negative effect on a person’s mental health, or help contribute to the mental health stigma.

For example, when a friend or family member says, “he/she will never get any better,or a doctor suggests that a patient “might have to take medication for the rest of his/her life,” words can hurt. Because a person might feel like there’s no hope of recovery-remission. And nobody wants to feel like a burden to themselves, or to others, especially not forever.

The key to overcoming all aspects of the mental health stigma is through increased communication and education. People suffering need to know they can seek help from their peers without judgment. But when friends, family, and even co-workers shut down vital lines of communication, it’s the worse thing they can do.

Mental Health Stigma: Now, for Some Good News…?

We often hear people talk about Big Pharma, and about how much money drug manufacturers make off people being sick.

“Global pharmaceuticals market was worth $934.8 billion in 2017 and will reach $1170 billion in 2021, growing at 5.8%.”

The Business Research Company

And it’s hard to avoid all the media from medical researchers and drug manufacturers who push their negative mental health statistics on society.

But what about the good news? What about all the mental health patients in recovery-remission from a serious mental illness? Where’s all the data for that?

It might seem hard to find positive light to shed on mental health, but there’s plenty.

Research shows that some mental health patients do go into recovery-remission, which could lessen their need for further treatment. No, recovery-remission doesn’t happen for everyone, or with every mental illness. But a person’s chances of recovery-remission does increase with age. So, doesn’t every patient deserve to feel a small glimmer of hope, if there is one?

Diem

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