As we continue to honor mental health awareness month, it is important to shed light on the issue of shame and stigma of mental health. One of the biggest misconceptions is mental illness does not mean crazy. It also does not mean that someone with a mental illness is unable to live “normal” life. Furthermore, keep in mind people with mental illnesses have jobs, families, friends, and challenges just like anybody else. Sometimes a mental illness will come unexpectedly and sometimes it will develop due to life stressors, but regardless it should not be shameful to come forward and say “I have a mental illness”.
Most people who live with a mental illness have been blamed for their condition or set of symptoms. They’ve been called names like “crazy” or “messed up”. Many people with a mental illness have been told “well you put yourself in that position so I do not feel bad for you.” I suspect that these common reactions are due to discomfort of the label mental illness or they themselves have been affected by mental illness and project their own shame onto someone else.
Feeling shame is a huge burden to carry which can result in many other negative outcomes. Someone with a mental illness already have to deal with the illness, it is not fair that they also have to deal with the shame and stigma as well. Stigmatizing mental illness also keeps people from seeking services because they feel a lot of guilt and shame. Does that seem fair? That someone who has a condition is being blamed for it? That someone who is already suffering is now having to do that in silent because they have a “mental illness”.
Many people stigmatize mental health, simply because they just do not understand it. In addition, many people are uncomfortable with mental illness because it is abstract and it cannot be measured with a blood test or an X-Ray. However, we should break that discomfort and stand against the stigma. There are many ways to do this such as :
- Talk Openly About Mental Health
- Educate Yourself And Others
- Be Conscious Of Language
- Encourage Equality Between Physical And Mental Illness
- Show Compassion For Those With Mental Illness
- Choose Empowerment Over Shame
- Be Honest About Treatment
- Don’t Harbor Self-Stigma
Although all that is mentioned above hold a lot of significance, it is important to discuss “self-stigma” in depth. If you or someone you know is living with a mental health condition do not allow the stigma to shame you from taking part in activities and being an active part of your community. Many people with a mental illness believe that they are no longer able to achieve their dreams and goals because of their condition. So I ask the same person, “if you had diabetes, would you stop reaching for your dreams, or would you just take the proper steps to take care of yourself so you can achieve your dreams?” Most times, people will say they would take proper steps and they realize that mental health condition is just as important as a physical condition.
Stigmatizing mental health perpetuates more challenges and difficulties. If someone is full of shame because they have been diagnosed with a mental illness, that shame can make the symptoms worse making it more difficult to get the full benefits of treatment and medication. In addition, a lot of time this embarrassment comes from the misconception that mental illness means dangerous and it is not the case. Mental illnesses occur on such a broad spectrum which makes this generalization false. However, people are fearful of mental illness and they distance themselves from people with a mental illness, resulting in more negative effects on the individual.
The impact of stigma does not just have negative effects of personal level but also on a societal and systemic level. According to the Centers for Disease Control, attitudes towards mental health impacts how treatment and services are prioritized on state and national level. “Stigma can result in lower prioritization for public resources allocated to mental health services and poorer quality of care delivered to people with mental illness” (CDC, 2012, p. 4).
According to research on attitudes about mental health, embarrassment and shame were cited as the main barriers to treatment. With that being said, we have to take a stand against the stigma that is associated with mental health. There are many ways to do this but one of the most important ones is raising awareness and knowledge. As mentioned earlier, the stigma stems from not knowing what mental health is and how the treatments that are available. So to start, read about mental health and learn that there is nothing shameful about having a mental health condition. Another way to take a stand is watch your language about mental health, Many people describe mental health with words like “crazy” and “weird”. In addition, mental health should be spoken about openly and should not be treated like a “secret” or a taboo topic. There are many treatments and services out there. It could be good to research and ask yourself “where are there care services near me?” or “What mental health services are near by?”
Many people do not get help for mental health conditions because they do not even know where to look. In addition, many people are confused about the difference between the different service providers and what they do. The different treatment providers are usually psychiatrists, mental health therapists, psychologists, care managers, and nurses. All of these professionals have a very significant role in providing care and support for individuals and their families coping with a mental health condition. Not every mental health condition requires all of these providers or they may see them for different durations. Never the less it is of most significance that individuals and families are aware that help is out there and there is nothing wrong in getting the help of a professional. If you have any questions about the different services visit rkcaregroup.com or call us at (305)900-7203 !