Overcoming the Stigma of Mental Illness

Social stigma is severe social disapproval of a person because of a particular trait that indicates their deviance from social norms. Unfortunately, stigma is common regarding individuals who have a mental health condition.

One of the adverse effects of stigma is that it can lead to discrimination. The discrimination may be overt, such as someone making a negative remark about your mental illness or your treatment. Often, the stigma is subtle and even unintentional, such as avoidance of a person with a mental condition out of the mistaken fear of that person being unstable, violent or dangerous. Stigma can even be directed inwardly if the person with a mental illness feels that he is less worthy as a result of his condition.

Stigma is much more than a nuisance. There are harmful effects associated with stigma such as reluctance to seek help, lack of understanding of family and friends, inability to find employment or housing, social isolation and harassment.

Stigma is almost always based on a lack of understanding rather than the facts. Learning to accept your condition and recognize what you need to do to treat it, seeking support, and helping educate others can make a big difference.

You do not have to be a victim of stigma. With some effort, one can cope with and overcome stigma. Here are some tips.

  • Do not let the stigma prevent you from seeking treatment.
  • Work with your therapist on regaining your self-esteem and overcoming self-doubt and shame.
  • Stay connected with your family, friends and loved ones. They can be immensely supportive if you share your condition with people who you trust.
  • You are not your illness. One should not say, “I am bipolar”, the same way a heart patient does not say, “I am heart disease.” Rather, one should say, “I have bipolar.”
  • Support groups are great ways of meeting other people who share your condition and realizing that you are not alone.
  • Schools can accommodate students who are dealing with mental issues. If you or your child is a student, work with the school to help them understand the condition and help you access any resources that are available.

For Family & Other Personal Support

How To Support a Family Member or a Loved One With a Mental Health Disorder
Having a close family member develop a mental illness is a drastic event that changes everyone’s life in many fundamental ways. Strange or unpredictable behaviors in a loved one can be devastating. Your own personal anxiety can increase as you struggle with each illness episode and worry about the future. It could seem at first that coping with this new reality is insurmountable, but over time the family, friends and loved ones do gain the knowledge and skills to manage effectively with the various challenges that can arise. They discover strengths they never knew they had, and they are able to meet situations that they never anticipated facing. Moreover, even though there are many resources available for people dealing with mental illness, support from family and loved ones remains an essential element in the recovery process. Therefore, the more you learn about how you can help the better the outcome.

The best starting place for learning to cope is to educate yourself. Find out as much information as possible about mental illness by reading and by talking with others experiencing similar difficulties.

  • Loved ones should bear in mind that they cannot cure the mental disorder and it is not their fault that their loved one developed a mental disorder.
  • As hard as they might try, the symptoms can get worse. It is beyond their control.
  • Acceptance of the reality of the disorder is a process that the family and the patient have to endure. Mental health treatment is a journey that often involves trying different forms of medication and/or therapy until the right course of treatment evolves. Understand that recovery might take quite some time.
  • It is important to learn to separate the disorder and its symptoms from the person that you love. If you feel anger and resentment, direct that negative energy toward the illness, not the person that you love.
  • Don’t take the patient’s behavior personally. Uncharacteristic behavior is a symptom of the disorder.
  • Respect their right to privacy and dignity. A person with a mental illness is entitled to be valued just like anybody else.
  • Besides the practical ways you can help (such as providing transportation and financial assistance), you can be a tremendous help just by showing your compassion and emotional support.
  • If the disorder causes delusions or hallucinations, it is not beneficial to attempt to talk them out of their belief.
  • It is not helpful to tell someone to just “stop feeling depressed”. Just like you would never tell someone with diabetes to just stop being diabetic, it is similarly inappropriate to tell someone to just stop having a mental health disorder.
  • Acknowledge the incredible strength and courage that your loved one is showing by dealing with his mental health disorder.
  • If you are involved with your loved one’s treatment you should request (with permission) the actual diagnosis and its explanation from the mental health treatment team to deepen your understanding of their condition.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask your loved one if he or she is thinking about self-harming or suicide. Asking about it will not give them the idea; rather it gives them the opportunity to reach out for help if indeed they have such thoughts.
  • Make sure to take care of yourself. It is important for you to have your physical and emotional needs met even if you are the primary caretaker.
  • Do not shy away from psychotherapy for yourself. This kind of situation can cause emotions such as grief, guilt, fear, anger, sadness, hurt, confusion and more. A therapist can help you deal with these feelings.
  • Support groups for family members of the mentally ill are a fantastic resource. It gives you a chance to express yourself amongst people who understand what you are going through.

*DISCLAIMER – The preceding articles are provided for informational purposes only. These resources are not in substitute of the services of mental health care professional.