Overcoming the Stigma of Mental Illness

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Mental health treatment has come a long way from a history of barbaric treatments and scientific misunderstandings by healthcare workers and the public. However, the community still has a long way to go in understanding these diseases. In the past, many people have believed that those with mental illness were possessed or unable to make choices for themselves and locked them away in institutions. Even now, people fear what they do not understand. We’ve come a long way but there is still work to do to reverse the stigma of mental illness in society.

There Are Seven Kinds of Mental Health Stigma

The most obvious form is public stigma. People without firsthand experience of having a family member with mental illness or a diagnosis themselves don’t understand mental illness and in many cases, don’t want to understand. They tend to want to sweep the problem under the rug and pretend it doesn’t exist. As a result, those with mental illnesses can be perceived as outcasts.

Self-stigma is exactly what the name implies. Someone who is mentally ill applies a real or perceived stigma onto themselves. They may have never been bullied or suffered public repercussions from their illness, but that doesn’t keep them from feeling stigmatized.

Those who take care of people with mental illnesses or family members may feel stigma by association. Like guilt by association, people associate you with the same stigma as those you care for with mental illness.

If you’re one of those people that help take care of someone with mental illness in the family, you may suffer from what we call a perceived stigma. You may believe that others feel a negative connotation to that mental illness which may or may not be true.

The last two forms are external in the form of healthcare professionals and their institutions. Believe it or not, healthcare workers often have many beliefs that stigmatize those who are mentally ill. Likewise, those beliefs carry over within the structure or healthcare system. And is known as healthcare practitioners’ stigma and structural stigma.

Because of all the different kinds of stigmas associated with mental illness, some people may suspect or even know they are suffering from a disorder but they don’t want to be treated or diagnosed to avoid any stigma. This is one of the most destructive forms of stigma because it prevents treatment. Who wants to carry around a label of bipolar for the rest of their life?

What Can You Do About It?

Our first concern goes out to those who may be suffering from mental illness but are reluctant to seek treatment or even a diagnosis because they don’t want to carry that in their records for the rest of their lives.

Maybe you’ve experienced healthcare workers who try to make decisions for you because they assume you are incapable of making your own decisions. They may feel the right to decide what’s in your best interest because of your imbalanced brain chemistry. Don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself. We can do our best to educate people, but ultimately, we can only control how we react to others.

The first and most important thing is to seek treatment. Don’t let society’s stigma surrounding mental health deprive you of the treatment and services you need. First, get an accurate diagnosis so you can get the right treatment. Educate your family and friends about your diagnosis as well as yourself. Understanding is an important step in treatment.

You may want to be careful about how you word things when discussing your illness with family members or friends. You are not defined by your disease. So instead of saying “I’m bipolar,” try framing it as “I have bipolar disorder.”

Don’t feel shame over your diagnosis or feel like it was because you were a “weak” person or you’re “crazy.” The only way to end the stigma associated with mental illness is to educate people and to come out of the shadows. Too many people have been afraid of negative repercussions if they are open about their mental illnesses. You can argue that it’s no one else’s business and you’d be correct, but you should be able to tell people that you have bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder as freely as telling them if you have high blood pressure or diabetes.

It may help to find a support group, particularly when you’re first diagnosed. This may be a little bit harder to find than your typical Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings, but if there isn’t one locally, you should be able to find one online. Talk to others who have been living with mental illnesses to learn more about it and different ways to cope with the disorder and how to handle any misinformation or stigma that you may face.

Whether you’re in a small group or speaking to a large room of people, you can help end the stigma of mental illness by education and example. The more open we are about mental illness, the more attitudes and hearts will change.

For years, the medical community and society have had misunderstandings about mental illness and being diagnosed could lead to stigma. Mental patients have been exposed to horrific experiments and traumatic conditions in mental health institutions for a long time. While we’ve progressed and evolved from those days, we still have much work to do. If you suspect you are suffering from mental illness, get help. Once you get diagnosed and treated, educate as many people as you can about the disorder. At Everlast Recovery Center, we treat mental illness as well as addiction. Many times, the two are co-occurring diagnoses. We offer treatment in a homelike atmosphere complete with homestyle meals and a small staff-to-patient ratio that makes you feel you’re home rather than in treatment. In addition to counseling, we offer holistic therapies to help calm your mind and learn ways to decrease stress when you’re back out in the real world. Call us today and learn how we can help at 866-DETOX-25, (866-338-6925).

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