Stigma is still alive and well, and there is always room for another opinion
on what can be done about it.
Mental Health Stigma -- what can we do about it?
2005 Sonia Devine
What is Stigma?
Stigma is the use of stereotypes and labels when describing someone, and it
is often attached to people who suffer from mental health issues. We don’t
fully understand how the brain works yet, but one thing we DO know is that
it is an organ. Yet our society doesn’t readily accept brain disorders the
way we accept other organ disorders. Why is this so?
Stigma is a harsh reality for people who have mental health problems,
because it prevents them from enjoying a normal and productive life. So many
people today feel uncomfortable about mental health issues, despite the fact
that there is growing evidence that more and more people are developing
these problems. In fact, many people are so uncomfortable with the stigma
that they would rather suffer in silence than get help they need.
Here are a few of the most common misconceptions about mental health
* Mentally ill people have a weak character
* Mentally ill people are potentially dangerous.
* People with mental illness should just “snap out of it”
* Mentally ill people are violent
The media has only further fuelled our distorted beliefs about mental health
issues. Frequently, characters on television and in the movies that have a
mental illness are depicted as dangerous, unpredictable and violent.
What Are the Effects of Stigma?
If you became ill you would go to a doctor. Once you got better, you would
expect to get on with life as usual. But it’s not that easy for people who
suffer from mental illness. Often, they can suffer from persistent
rejections and exclusions by ill-informed members of the community. Some
people have been denied loans, health insurance and jobs because of their
history of mental health issues. Consequently, these people lose their self
confidence and may develop further anxiety or depression, on top of the
issues they are already facing.
I witnessed this first hand many years ago, when my brother was diagnosed
with schizophrenia. The majority of his friends deserted him; they weren’t
able to comprehend or cope with his altered personality and erratic
behaviour. Within months he went from being a popular, vivacious and
outgoing young man to a shattered, isolated loner. Over the following
months, I watched my brother sink deeper into debilitating depression, which
ultimately became so unbearable that he took his own life.
What Can We Do?
All of us have times when we feel depressed, anxious or angry. We might even
have a series of bad days, where we think that nothing will ever go right
for us and the world is against us. For a mentally ill person, these
feelings do not go away.
So the answer lies in education and understanding. If you know someone who
seems very emotional, down or upset, then lead by example; show compassion
and understanding, and encourage them to seek help. And if you’re suffering
silently yourself, take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone and that
there IS hope.
Sonia Devine is a qualified professional hypnotherapist and success coach
with a caring and committed approach to healing, who lives in Melbourne,
Australia. You can find more of her information on mental health, self
image, love, relationships, phobias and much more on her website
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