Stigma, discrimination, and mental illness

Mental health disorders continue to be surrounded by persistent stigma. Those attitudes can lead to the discrimination of mental health patients, even preventing them from getting help.

Stigma, discrimination, and mental illness

Stigma, Discrimination, and Mental Illness in Brief

Mental illness has long been surrounded by persistent stigma. The coronavirus pandemic started breaking down some prejudice around those conditions as more Americans admitted to mental and emotional struggles. 

Although the pandemic years triggered a national conversation about mental and behavioral health challenges, some stigma remains. Consequently, those suffering from mental health conditions may delay getting help. They may also become subjected to discrimination.

Consequently, untreated mental health conditions may worsen over time and become harder to treat. Like physical illnesses left without the proper care, severe mental health problems may become chronic.

The State of Mental Health in the United States in 2022

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that every second person in the United States will be diagnosed with a mental health condition or disorder in their lifetime. That means mental illnesses rank among the most common health problems nationwide, alongside heart disease, cancer, and obesity. 

One in four Americans lives with a severe mental illness at any time. They may suffer from major depressive disorder, anxiety, or bipolar disorder. Like physical conditions, mental health concerns can be treated, allowing patients to recover and return to leading a fulfilling life. However, becoming exposed to persistent and severe stigma may prevent that.

The Consequences of Stigma

Stigma is viewed negatively simply because of a specific trait someone has. People may become stigmatized because of their ethnic background or disability or because they struggle with mental health. 

Once the negative attitudes associated with stigma turn into actions against a person or a group of people, stigma becomes discrimination. Medical experts distinguish between three types of stigma – public, self, and institutional stigma. No matter the stigma someone is exposed to, the consequences can be far-reaching. 

Many those suffering from mental health problems avoid asking for help to prevent exposure to stigma. As a result, treatment is delayed, and mental health challenges are allowed to develop into disorders, often with severe consequences for a person’s daily life. 

Fear of discrimination may be another reason Americans with mental health issues remain silent about their problems. 

What Discrimination Looks Like

Discrimination can have many different causes. Discrimination is usually linked to the three types of stigma when it is based on mental health stigma

  • Public stigma may cause employers to avoid hiring otherwise qualified individuals because of their mental illness. 
  • Self-stigma and its negative thoughts can lead to low self-esteem, which can limit a person’s opportunities throughout life. 
  • Institutional stigma can limit someone’s opportunities. Sometimes, this may be unintended, but the outcome is the same. 

It is not always easy to recognize and identify stigma and the resulting discrimination. A straightforward way of checking for stigma is to consider whether someone with, for example, a heart condition would be treated the same as someone with depression. Recognizing stigma and discrimination is essential to preventing it in the future. 

Dealing with the Consequences of Stigma and Discrimination

Mental illness can lead to stigma, exposing a person to discrimination. Being discriminated against may worsen that person’s mental health problems and tell them to even more substantial prejudice. The result is a vicious cycle. 

Breaking that cycle can seem impossible for those suffering from mental health challenges. Many people deal with their condition privately, often without practical professional support. They are risking a lifetime of mental health challenges. 

On the other hand, with professional support, mental illnesses can be cured just like physical illnesses. The treatment may be different, but the concept is similar. Many people with mental health conditions benefit from cognitive and behavioral health counseling

Counseling is a form of talk therapy that begins by identifying the root causes of a person’s concerns and then addressing them. At the same time, counselors and their clients start developing coping strategies to lessen the effects of the mental illness in question. Encouraging positive behaviors and developing positive habits can contribute enormously to a person’s recovery. 

Addressing Stigma and Discrimination

Addressing stigma and discrimination and overcoming it can start anywhere. Making services like counseling more widely available helps remove barriers to accessing support in the workplace, for example. Employees will also begin to think of counseling, reducing the stigma surrounding it. The same is true for schools and universities. 

Families and friends of those struggling with mental health also play a role. Reconsidering the language they use on subjects relating to mental health is one way of breaking down stigma. Acknowledging the effectiveness of treatment is equally important. In some cases, it is beneficial for friends and family to join some of the counseling sessions. 

Breaking down the stigma surrounding mental health conditions makes it easier for sufferers to ask for help and speeds up their recovery. Actively reconsidering personal actions and company policies relating to mental health is also part of the process. Finally, offering easy access to mental health counseling can change attitudes and actions. 

About TrueCare™

TrueCare™ is a nationwide Health & Wellness platform for families and businesses providing end-to-end solutions for COVID-19 testing, screening, vaccination, home care, and corporate well-being services.

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