May is the National Mental Health Awareness Month. This year, mental health advocacy groups, organizations, and treatment centers like Amend Treatment are focusing on highlighting modern mental health stigma; understanding how both internalized and external stigma can affect individuals and entire communities, and encouraging friends and families to recognize signs of stigma and discrimination, whether at home, at school, or in society at large.
Our understanding of the importance of mental health issues has come a long way. Surveys on the topic have found that most Americans – upwards of 87 percent – agree that having a mental health disorder is nothing to be ashamed of and that mental health disorders can be treated.
But it’s not all positive. A third of polled adults still felt that people with mental health disorders can be frightening, and about 40 percent would view someone differently if they found out they had a mental health disorder. Furthermore, about half of adults find that mental health issues are different from serious physical issues.
Stigmas can be actively harmful. They can discourage people from seeking the help they need. They can limit access to crucial resources due to a change in public opinion, and changes in funding. They can lead to an increase in victimization at work, at school, or online.
Studies found that almost 50 percent of Americans will meet diagnostic criteria for a mental health disorder during their lifetime, while only 40 percent of individuals will receive treatment for their illness. Additionally, we’ve seen a 25 percent increase in the suicide rate over the past 20 years and mental illness has quickly become the leading cause of disability in the United States. Breaking the stigma needs to start at home, in classrooms, between friends, and within communities.
At Amend Treatment, we recognize and challenge these stereotypes and stigmas and help promote access to quality mental health care for all individuals. Let’s talk about mental health:
Understanding Modern Mental Health Stigmas
A stigma is a harmful belief or preconception that is reinforced through ignorance or shared beliefs, such as culturally shared stereotypes, or cultural and religious values that directly or indirectly discourage talking about mental health issues. The term itself dates to ancient Greece, where it referred to a brand or permanent mark: a mark of disgrace.
A stigma is more than public perception. While stigmas are fueled by other people’s beliefs, they exist in three basic forms: internalized stigma, public stigma, and institutionalized stigma.
- Internalized stigma or self-stigma is the negative beliefs and refutations that people carry because of a poor or damaged self-image, often due to victimization or previous views. For example, someone who learned to look down on people with depression as lazy and good-for-nothing might be less likely to seek treatment while depressed, and more likely to struggle with feelings of shame or guilt due to how their symptoms are affecting their ability to work or function.
- Public stigma refers to the general public’s discrimination or negative opinions of people with mental health issues. For example, certain cultures prioritize emotional restraint and honor, and consider personal weakness to be shameful – not just to an individual, but to the family they represent.
- Institutionalized stigma refers to the discriminatory practices and policies enacted by organizations, professional communities, businesses, and governments – whether intentional or unintentional. This includes limiting opportunities for education, employment, or advancement directly or indirectly because of a person’s mental health issues or providing lower funding for the treatment and study of mental health problems.
Important Resources for Mental Health Support
Recognizing and speaking out against examples of stigma at home and in the community is an important first step towards helping an affected loved one or other people. If you are struggling with a mental health problem, then recognizing signs of self-stigma – such as blaming yourself for your symptoms, negating your achievements or progress in treatment, or denying yourself treatment altogether – it’s important to talk to a friend or a counselor about getting help.
If you don’t know where to start, it helps to have a few different options:
- Are you or someone you love in imminent danger? Call 911 for emergencies.
- Do you think about self-harm, or have you experienced suicidal ideation? Call 988 for the suicide and crisis hotline or use the Lifeline Chat
- Do you or someone you love struggle with substance use issues? Contact the SAMHSA for information about substance use disorder.
- Finally, consider giving us a call at Amend Treatment.
Not All Doom and Gloom
Mental Health Awareness Month aims to educate people on ways in which they can make a difference, at home and within their communities, by bringing different issues and challenges in mental health treatment to light.
But it’s also important to shine a light on the progress that has been made, and the positive side of continuing to encourage discussion and research into mental health.
For one, mental health issues have gone mainstream. More and more prominent personalities have come out to talk about their struggles with depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety issues, or substance use problems – and how they sought help to get better.
The COVID pandemic shone a harsh spotlight on mental health issues inside and outside the workplace, pushing telehealth services years into the future. More and more companies are considering a shorter workweek to reduce rates of burnout among employees, and mental health is becoming a bigger part of the discussion around the office.
All forms of mental health stigma affect access and ability to seek mental healthcare in different ways, such as negatively impacting an individual’s likelihood to have access to mental health treatment, seeking that treatment, or adhering to their treatment plans.
At Amend Treatment, we believe that combatting stigma on all levels requires an open and empathic approach: taking a step back to consider the personal, cultural, and institutional obstacles that stand in the way of a loved one’s treatment, for example, and encouraging them through the process by offering to stay by their side every step of the way.