Stigma Surrounding Mental Health Can Cause Shameful Emotions
Stigma is a negative reaction to a specific group of people that sets them apart from others. It can lead to unwarranted discrimination and prejudice. The stigma surrounding those with a mental illness is strong. Many people with mental illnesses keep their conditions a secret, for fear of being stereotyped as crazy, or as ones to be avoided. Others who suspect that something is wrong may never seek out help because they don’t want to have an official diagnosis that would then make them a target for stigma.
What Stigma Can Do
A person who becomes subject to stigma can often feel shame for the condition they have. The symptoms that a person with a mental illness has can often be exacerbated by stigma. A person may feel unwanted by others, or that they are somehow broken because they are not like “normal” people. These feelings may even hamper their recovery or treatment efforts to become stable. Other effects that a person with a mental illness may experience as a result of stigma include:
- Low self-esteem
- A lack of desire to actively participate in life
- Negatively distorted self-image
- Feelings of blame
- Being negatively, or inaccurately, represented in the media
- Feeling hopeless
- Becoming distressed at how they are treated because of stigma
- Suffering a reduction in productivity at work
- Retreating from an active social life, or any social life
Emotional Consequences of Stigma
The stigma against mental illness can cause others to act out, often because they are adhering to a stereotype, and have no real understanding of the situation. They may call someone a freak or a psycho, or accuse them of being irrational if their view of a particular situation opposes the general opinion. Inside, their stigma may be fueled by false fears of someone becoming unpredictable, or even dangerous because of their condition, and may steer clear of that person as a result.
This kind of treatment can lead those with a mental illness to begin to believe what they hear and set them on a path to self-stigma. They start to feel guilty for who they are. As a result, they isolate themselves from others to avoid becoming the subject of name-calling, discrimination or prejudice. Support from friends and family members is key to the successful treatment for someone with a mental illness. When those people turn their backs, or a person begins to insulate themselves from the world, their recovery suffers, making it even harder to feel that they fit in.
How Stigma Can Be Managed
If you have a mental illness, you don’t have to let the stigma upset, or even change, the way you live your life. You can fight back by arming yourself with support from others in the same situation, for example. There are most likely support groups in your area, and if not, there are plenty of internet forums where you can discuss both general and specific instances with others who know where you are coming from.
Consider talking to a therapist about stigma and how best to handle it. Therapy can help you improve your self-esteem, giving you the fortitude to deflect any negative energy directed at you. Choose a friend or family member you trust, one whom you think may understand what you are going through, and have a face-to-face discussion about how stigma affects you, and them.
Finally, learn to trust yourself. Don’t let your life be ruled by what others think, others who are uninformed and just following the crowd. If you have your condition under control, there may never be a reason to reveal it. No one will be the wiser, and then you can avoid the issue of facing stigma altogether.