Imagine calling to cancel your attendance at a friend’s birthday party, due to poor mental health. Would you rather call and say your are experiencing a vomiting bug, or that your feeling anxious and the thought of socialising is overwhelming?
If it makes you uncomfortable to consider answering the second, honest option, this could indicate you are affected by stigma. Whether intentionally or inadvertently, we and those around us are affected and may be contributing to the perpetuation of mental health stigma.
About mental health stigma
Approximately 1 in 5 individuals have experienced a mental disorder in the past 12 months. Everyone will have either experienced a mental disorder or know someone who has experienced a mental disorder. Experiences of mental ill health is far from uncommon, however the stigma that surrounds it still prevails. For an individual, mental health stigma results in reduced hope, lower self-esteem, increased symptoms, difficulties at work, and a lower likelihood of maintaining a treatment plan, or seeking professional or personal support at all.
Many factors contribute to the perpetuation of mental health stigma. This includes a lack of understanding and awareness of what mental illness is, internalised reluctance or shame to admit mental suffering and fear and misunderstanding of mental disorders.
When it comes to physical injury, there are prompt protocols in place on how to manage recovery. Stay home, attend physiotherapy to aid recovery, and rest. If you follow the set protocols, you will achieve to most desirable outcomes for your physical wellbeing. If you were to push through the physical injury or maintain a façade that you are not in physical pain, it is likely the pain will become unbearable, or cause more serious negative long-term consequences that can’t be hidden.
The same can be said for mental health. However, despite being successful, evidence based treatments available. It is more likely for an individual to wait until their mental health is at the point of serious, unconcealable effects, before they let their mask down. Imagine the reduction in mental suffering if we are able to unmask the stigma of mental health, and be as quick to address, treat or seek help on our mental ailments as soon as they arise.
How we can unmask the stigma
Each day we can all actively work to unmask the stigma around mental health by:
- Learn the facts – educate yourself about mental disorders, understand the range of symptoms which mental health may present. Understanding that mental health is part of your overall health, and mental disorders are treatable, will further encourage help-seeking behaviours.
- Always be aware of your attitudes and behaviours. Examine your own thoughts and perceptions that have been influenced by upbringing and society.
- Set examples for others by sharing your own experiences in mental health and treatment seeking. Ask others for help. This might make someone else feel comfortable enough to one day also ask for help in their time of need.
- Language matters, and certain words can induce shame for others, in turn making it harder for people to reach out or admit they are having mental difficulties. Calling someone ‘crazy’ if they have a farfetched perspective, ‘sooo bipolar’ if they have a change in mood, or ‘OCD’ because the like to keep a tidy desk, can minimize the experience of someone’s suffering and effect the attitude of others.
- Educate others about mental health and speak out against stigma. Share facts and positive attitudes, and challenge myths and stereotypes with your peers.
- A person is not their illness – do not use their mental health as a label. Mental illnesses are only a part of the bigger picture. Aim to focus on their positives.
- Support organisations that fight mental health stigma.
Throughout October we will be diving into the topic ‘Despooking Mental Health’. We will be unmasking stigmas, discussing the psychology behind ghosting and encountering energy vampires.