It is well established that mental illness has deleterious personal, social, and economic consequences for individuals, families, and society. Mental health stigma is a result of many-layered social apprehensions. The impact of such an unhealthy approach can deteriorate the situation.
Unawareness and Mental Health
First, an individual’s mental health status is perceived through observable cues leading the observer to deem an individual as mentally ill. As a result, many people don’t open up due to fear of being judged. The world health organization estimated that 20% of the world’s population suffers from mental health. And that means out of every 5 people we know 1 suffers from mental health/illness at some point in their lives.
So every one of us knows a person suffering from mental illness. But the fact that we don’t know about their struggle speaks a lot about mental health stigma in society. It depicts that we lack an understanding of what mental illness is. We are reluctant to admit it. Numerous stereotypes exist in society regarding mental health due to our mindset.
Mental Health Stigma: A Deep-Rooted Issue
The amount of stigma existing can be explained with help of an example. Imagine you can’t go to work/college today. What would you prefer to say that you had a high fever or you were depressed? And most of the people will choose the former even if the reason might be the latter option. This shows how this stigma grips us and society. Imagine telling a person with a broken bone to just ignore their pain. Or someone with a heart disease that they are faking it just for attention. Sounds strange right? But, this is exactly what we do to those who have a mental illness. At least all of us have told someone to just snap out of it or it’s all in their head. These reactions are because of these stigmas.
Consequences of Mental Health Stigma
Let’s list down the consequences of mental health stigma. Fewer than half of all individuals living with a diagnosable mental illness actually seek treatment for their mental health issues. While there are many empirically supported barriers to mental health treatment-seeking, but mental health stigma has emerged as one of the most significant obstacles
Researches have shown conclusively that mental health stigma directly influences both treatment-seeking attitudes and physical health. Also increasing certain self-variables such as self-esteem, self-efficacy, and anxiety.
And not only this, there is a growing recognition of the importance of mental health and physical health relationship. Princeton conducted a global review examining potential relationships between mental health and physical health. They reported that 14 per cent of global physical health conditions correlate with psychiatric disorders. According to research, mental health stigma directly links to elevated cortisol, increased blood pressure, hypertension, sick days, experiences of chronic pain, and general measures indicating poor physical health. To sum up this research it concluded that stigma for mental health affects the physical health of patients.
Media reports often link mental illness with violence or portray people with mental health problems as dangerous, criminal, evil, or very disabled and unable to live normal, fulfilled lives. But this is far from the case. It is safe to say that the media exacerbates the situation. Imagine if cancer treatment was stigmatized. It would risk a life that could be saved, thankfully it is not. So why to stigmatize mental health treatment if it too can save lives?
Treatments not only eliminate the symptoms of the illness but also eliminates the prejudices regarding the illness. Treatments not only cure symptoms but also can transform people’s life. Research shows that the best way to challenge these stereotypes is through firsthand contact with people with experience of mental health problems. A number of national and local campaigns are trying to change public attitudes to mental illness.
“Pain shared is pain halved.”
It is an old Jewish saying and I believe it’s time to inculcate it in our lives. Thus, we all need to strive towards removing this stigma so as to halve this pain.