What is stigma? Prejudice + discrimination = stigma
Negative attitudes (prejudice) and negative response (discrimination) can make us feel unwanted or shamed (stigmatised).
“Stigma is often used to differentiate or alienate people. It can be seen as a blotch, mark, blemish or defect. Like a stain on our favourite t-shirt that just won’t come out. It can stir up feelings of shame, embarrassment, and disgrace.” Grace McMahon, Beingwell Life Coach
The stigma around mental health has existed for years, but it’s incredibly frustrating that in our modern and forward-thinking world it still exists today. Here at Beingwell, we say “no more!”.
Stigma prevents a staggering 40% of us with anxiety and depression from seeking professional help. Because of stigma, we can miss out on medical care, housing and employment. Stigma can be responsible for us worrying about what people might think and hiding our experiences, thoughts or feelings. That can lead to symptoms getting worse, depression, loss of hope, and even suicide - which can occur on top of already existing mental health problems. Stigma can be life-threatening!
Where does stigma show up?
It can show up in the workplace, in our friendship groups, in families, schools, and communities. Stigma can also show up in ourselves. It can be subtle or outrageous and often we don’t question it.
Think about watching films or series where the villain is shown as having a mental illness. Halloween costumes that depict people with mental illness as violent and dangerous. Phrases like “snap out of it”, “just try harder”, or “you should be grateful, think of all the people with worse lives!”. Those of us with depression are often stereotyped as lazy, while some judge those of us with anxiety as cowardly. Then there’s self-stigma, which is when we turn against ourselves and internalise negative stereotypes!
Stigma can affect us while we’re still experiencing problems, in treatment, healing and even when a mental health problem is a distant memory.
So what can we do?
Together we can help end stigma by:
Acknowledging that mental health problems are incredibly common (if you have a mental illness, know that you’re not alone).
Educating ourselves using reliable sources like Mind, Rethink, the Mental Health Foundation, NHS.
Imagine ‘walking in the shoes’ of others who face stigma.
Be aware that labels, labelling and incorrect terms can cause hurt and upset to those who are experiencing mental health problems.
Monitor the media and speak out against stigmatising material.
Be aware of our own judgements and attitudes.
Don’t harbour self-stigma, be honest about treatment and choose empowerment over shame.
Focus on the positive. Mental illness, including addictions, are only one part of anyone's larger picture.
Debunk myths about mental illness. If a family member or friend makes a stigmatising remark, education them and have a no-tolerance policy.
Support organisations that fight stigma!
No matter how we contribute to the mental health movement, we can make a difference simply by knowing that mental illness is not anyone’s fault, no matter what societal stigma says.
All of us have a role to play in ending stigma and supporting each other as we make changes in our lives.
Be kind. An act of kindness to a stranger can change their whole day, outlook or attitude; even something as simple as a smile! Everyone has their own struggles, and we may not see them, as with mental health, so let’s be kind to everyone!