Mental Health: Social Stigmas and Tips for Overcoming Them

Mental illness is often accompanied by prejudice, stereotypes, and discrimination. In this article, we'll talk about what social stigmas are and how to deal with them.
Mental Health: Social Stigmas and Tips for Overcoming Them

Last update: 18 November, 2021

Social stigmas are very present in society. Unfortunately, prejudice often develops in many people who have trouble accepting that the world isn’t the way they want it to be.

To understand exactly what social stigmas are, it’s best to take a look at those who suffer from them. People who suffer from social stigmas possess some attribute or personal trait about which other people have stereotypes and prejudices. This leads to the person being devalued. In many cases, they’re even discriminated against and excluded.

Here, we can differentiate between public stigma, which is the one issued by society, and self-stigma, which is internally accepted by the person who suffers from something that causes them to experience a lack of self-acceptance.

Social stigmas are present at many levels, and mental health is one of the areas where we can find them the most. These generate an added difficulty to psychological and psychiatric illnesses.

The consequences of social stigmas

Social stigmas always have a negative effect, so people who suffer from them will be harmed. Some people can indeed live with them without being affected by them, but they’re usually few and far between.

In the case of having a mental illness, some of the consequences of being a victim of stigmas could make the person:

  • Feel misunderstood both by their family and by friends and even strangers.
  • Feel very lonely and isolated, and this often aggravates their disorder.
  • Have the feeling that they won’t be able to improve their circumstances.
  • Prefer to hide their condition from others so that they don’t feel judged.
  • Resist seeking treatment for theirr disorder.
  • Have disproportionate reactions.
Hombre que sufre un estigma social.
Isolation due to suffering discrimination is capable of worsening psychological and psychiatric conditions.

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Self-stigma: A way to sabotage ourselves

One of the first things we should do in case of suffering from any mental disorder is not to fall into self-stigma. This means that people who belong to the stigmatized group must not believe that social stigmas are true.

Like the public form of stigma, self-stigma is made up of stereotypes, prejudices, and discrimination. Thus, the person may believe deas like they’re not capable of taking care of themselves or that they’re too weak.

Self-stigma also manifests itself in behavior. For example, the person may self-discriminate and not apply for a job for which they’re qualified simply because they believe that the social stigma towards their mental illness is true.

Also, another common example is that the person is afraid of being labeled, does not seek help, and does not receive appropriate treatment. This is a situation that we as a society need to fight against the most, since early diagnosis and treatment can improve quality of life.

How do you deal with the social stigma of mental illness?

There are several ways to fight the stigma of mental illness. The most important of them is to get treatment.

A proper diagnosis of what’s happening can lead to resolution or significant improvement of symptoms, either through psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of both. In addition, having a diagnosis may allow a person to join a support group and meet other people who’ve gone through the same things we have.

It’s essential that we don’t identify with the illness. For example, saying “I’m depressed” anchors us in the disorder and keeps us from getting out of it. On the other hand, saying “I currently have depression” implies that it may be something that changes over time. You can have depression at one stage in your life and then outgrow or overcome it.

Using language correctly also helps change social stigmas. It’s essential that we avoid labels such as “crazy,” “neurotic,” “insane,” “schizophrenic,” or “bipolarand use more inclusive language that prioritizes the person rather than the condition. For example, we can refer to someone as “a person with schizophrenia” or “an individual with mental health problems.”

Finally, another way to deal with social stigmas is to talk about them publicly. Stigmas are often the result of ignorance, so sharing knowledge and voicing opinions at events, social networks, or gatherings with friends can help.

Psicóloga ayuda a paciente deprimida con su estigma social.
If a person with a mental health illness delays care because of stigmas, she loses the opportunity for appropriate help.

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Some final thoughts on social stigmas

Mental illness is not something that can happen to just others. In fact, it’s estimated that 1 in 5 people will suffer from a mental illness in their lifetime. That means it could even affect us or someone close to us.

People with mental illness who have the support of family, friends, and co-workers are better able to reintegrate into society. On the contrary, feeling judged and discriminated against keeps them from recovery.

Social stigmas are a reality that we must all fight against as a society. We can do it with something as simple as using more inclusive language, for example.

It’s more difficult to question our prejudices and stereotypes, but we should never stop doing so. A society that doesn’t discriminate against individuals based on any of their conditions is a healthier, more mature, and progressive society.

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