Stigma in mental health: Awareness as an antidote to prejudice

04 Σεπτεμβρίου 2019

Mental disorders can affect everyone regardless of their age, gender, status or their day-to-day life and may concern completely different situations such as depression, phobias, anxiety and many more. Also, a mental condition impacts not only the individual but also its social environment and mostly the family members.

 Mental disorder is a term used to describe a wide range of symptoms and experiences that significantly affect mental health, causing problems in thinking, expression of emotions, behavior and relationships.

 

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World-wide efforts are being made in order to emphasize the importance of prevention in mental disorders as well as in other diseases (ex. Diabetes). The paradox is that the majority of people who seek mental support are not suffering from a disorder and those who have in fact diagnosed with a mental disorder seek treatment with a significant delay or not at all. Mental health awareness is the key, thus read below what is the stigma and how important is to be eliminated once and for all!

The stigma includes: stereotypes, prejudices & discrimination

The stereotypes

Stereotypes are those perceptions that are embedded in public opinion that do not take into account data and experience, but serve to judge and evaluate things from a predetermined point of view. Those who think and act on the basis of stereotypes judge a type of individual and social groups in general.

Prejudices

Prejudice is an unfair and unreasonable opinion or feeling, especially when formed without enough thought or knowledge. Prejudice is remarkably similar to its Latin root in form and meaning; the Latin praejudicium which means "judgment in advance."

Discriminations

Discrimination means distinguishing between two or more people or things. Usually, discrimination means an unfair system that treats one group of people worse than another.

Stigma

Originating from the verb "stigmatize" which means to make something seem bad or disgraceful had always a negative meaning as a word. In Ancient Greece, a stigma was a brand burned into a slave or a criminal's skin to symbolize disgrace. In the 1500s, the word “stigmatize” meant literally "to brand or tattoo." Nowadays, if someone or something is stigmatized, is unfairly regarded by many people as being bad or having something to be ashamed of.  

The disease of the body or the soul is very often accompanied by a stigma. The myths that follow these diseases have played an important part in this. For example, schizophrenia is falsie associated with barbaric assassinations due to the continuous production of films with schizophrenic killers.

 Also, the plague of our times, the depression, has been attributed, unjustifiably, to people who are described as "weak", while those who pursue a more active sex life or having a sexual orientation to persons of the same sex are "abnormal" and "immoral".

Moreover, the characterizations "crazy", "insane", “lunatic”, "psychotic" etc. are impressed in the human mind from a very young age, thereby creating consciences, opinions and in the end of the day the person is lead to stereotypes and prejudices. Facing the mentally ill as 'crazy' and the psychiatrists as “shrinks” sadly continue to be more prevalent in small societies.

These stereotypes, prejudices and discriminations are preventing anyone who feel that need mental health care from visiting a psychologist or psychiatrist.

 Social stigma

When a person suffers from a social stigma it is very difficult to get rid of it. It is a major obstacle for a person who may recognize some early signs of a mental disorder to seek help in order to improve its life conditions, in the fear of being negatively “labeled” which will follow in all areas.

Unfortunately, a person with psychological issues may be subject to humiliation, underestimation, prejudice and rejection. Fortunately, societies and private initiatives have already started to mobilize using outreach messages and awareness campaigns in order to educate and inform more and more people.

 

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Mental illness and family

The range of stigma not only follows the patient, but also extends to his/her family members who are characterized by the kind of mental illness from which their relative suffers. Mental illness bears a great deal of negativity and is accompanied by hurtful feelings. In addition, those who suffer from it have an extra burden, a second illness, just as aggravating and debilitating, since they are subjected to daily stress due to the ongoing discrimination they and their family members face. Despite the rapid evolution in the medical field, perceptions about mental disorders have remained fallacious based on stereotypes and prejudices. After a person is diagnosed with a mental disorder, the family's daily routine is radically changed. Also, the members in order maintain their quality of life have to try to protect their loved one from all the aforesaid. Does this seem fair or even human?

Children and mental illness

It is common for parents of children with some kind of mental illness to be ashamed of the issues that their children may face, perceive it as their own personal failure or fill themselves with regrets and guilt. Also, they are usually imposing the stigma on themselves, thus their child, refuse to share their concern and seek for help and try to hide it! By not asking for help the potential of their child having a normal life is significantly decreased which will lead to deterioration and the development of more serious problems.

For example, the fact that it is so much easier for someone to tell that he/she is infected with a contagious virus, while feels prohibitive to open up about a mental disorder, is dangerous and frustrating.

So, it is clear that is important to stop characterizing people based on their mental problems, especially during childhood where children's psychology is extremely sensitive. Mental disorders are deserving equal treatment as any other medical condition without defining a person.

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How to behave

It is legitimate to know how to properly express yourself to someone who has a mental illness. For example, it is better to say that a person has schizophrenia than to say that he or she is schizophrenic. So you separate the person from his/her illness and recognize the fact that his/her illness is not his/her identity but a condition in which he/she lives. Respect the struggle that he/she experiences daily and honor his/her existence.

In addition, talking to people that haven’t divulge directly that they suffer from a mental disorder (might be though already known from someone else) or if they have opened up to you about it, the handling might be quite challenging. it is necessary to act normal, not to try to avoid referring to their illness and be informed properly about the disorder. Every case may differ so it is wise to ask an expert to guide you accordingly.

Impact of the stigma

It is understood that the effects of the stigma are wide and multilevel. Even if the sufferer manages to improve his/her personal and social life with great personal effort in combination with treatment, rejection, fear, discrimination, prejudice and mistrust may still follow and discourage him/her. As already mentioned, the effects of the stigma are not limited to the individual but extend to his/her family as well.

A person with mental disorder who is not receiving the vital treatment and appropriate medication if needed, eventually will increase the chances to confirm the existing stereotypes and prejudices (unbalanced, violent, dangerous) with unforeseen consequences for his/her health.

Although 1 in 4 people experience mental health problems, 40% of countries worldwide have failed to establish policies that promote mental health. This indicates that people and societies are not sufficient informed about mental health problems in order to develop helpful and efficient structures for the prevention and treatment of mental disorders.

Unfortunately, the stigma that follows the people with mental disorders and their families is still here and is blocking the way to evolution, quality of life, improvement and of course treatment.  

So read read read! Raise awareness! Detach the stereotypes, prejudices and discriminations from your life and be a part of a greater purpose: a happier and healthier world for everyone!

All of us have an obligation to change things towards a better future which will promote an equal treatment and also respect human life in general!

#nostigmaingreece

Melapus Team 

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