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Stigma

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Written by Jessy Pucker LMSW

December 24th 2021

There are two types of stigma surrounding mental illness: social stigma and self stigma. These two are inherently connected. Social stigma often gets more exposure in the media and content we consume. Negative views about mental illness can lead to shame and distress; both for those who experience it directly and their loved ones. It can also lead to the stigmatization of mental illness in larger institutions, like government services and the justice system. A lot has changed in the past decade surrounding the way we view mental illness. Self-care and wellness have become buzzwords, paving the way for more conversation surrounding mental health.

Self stigma, however, is rarely discussed. The way society views mental illness has a strong impact on the way people struggling with mental illness feel about themselves. If mental illness is seen as dangerous to the public, those messages can be internalized by someone with a mental illness. As a result, they may see themselves as dangerous or outcast from the public. With stigma comes feelings of shame, low self-esteem, and hopelessness. This can make it less likely for someone to seek help when they need it. The adverse effects of this stigma have been widely researched. In longitudinal studies, it has been found that there is a connection between self stigma and suicidality.

So this leads to the question: what can you do?

  1. Avoid phrases that could alienate someone experiencing mental illness. For example, the phrase, “you are being so bipolar” when someone is indecisive or moody can be isolating for someone who has Bipolar Disorder. Even if the comment is said without bad intentions, you never know the experiences of the people around you.
  2. If you have experienced mental illness and are comfortable doing so, share your story! This can help educate those around you and dispel myths about mental illness.
  3. Show support to those who share their mental illness journeys. Sharing is not an easy task, considering the topic of this blog.
  4. Examine judgements you may have surrounding mental illness. Ask yourself where these come from and how they may impact others.
  5. Educate yourself and others. This means listening to experiences of mental illness, seeking resources about it, and watching shows or reading books that show the reality of mental illness – not just the societal view of it.

Ending the stigma is about more than just an improved understanding of mental illness; it is about showing empathy and compassion for others. It might seem small, but the impact of recognizing and validating the experiences of others is substantial. Education and compassion are the pillars of ending the stigma surrounding mental illness.

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