As if dealing with mental health challenges is not tough enough, so is dealing with the stigma that can come with it. Stigma or a negative perception/stereotype can come from society, but it can also be in the form of self-stigma where people think negatively about themselves based on what others think. Thus, people can be judged for their mental health difficulties by others (e.g., thinking someone with schizophrenia is dangerous) but people can also judge themselves (e.g., feeling ashamed or embarrassed). However, stigma is usually based on a lack of understanding rather than facts. Besides how stigma makes people feel about themselves and others, it also prevents people from seeking treatment.
However, you do not have to be a victim of stigma. There are things we, as professionals are doing to help push back against stigma and there are things you can do too:
- Seek treatment. Even if you are reluctant, do not let the fear of a label prevent you from getting help.
- Talk openly about mental health. Sharing your experiences with a friend, family members, or even your social media network can help reduce shame and the secrecy about mental health treatment. Talking can also help you realize you are not alone and others are fighting a similar fight you are.
- Be aware of language. Using what we call person-first language helps people not feel defined by their problem. Instead of saying someone is bipolar say someone has bipolar disorder. That language makes sense and is clearer, just like we would say someone has cancer not someone is
- Educate yourself. If stigma is based on a lack of understanding you can educate yourself about various mental illnesses.
- Choose empowerment. Instead of feeling ashamed by what you are dealing with you could speak out, join a support group, or choose to live an empowered life where you are deciding not to be controlled by how others view you.
~Carrie Chiasson, Psy.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist