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Stigma in Mental Health

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Month 

Mental health encompasses our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It influences how we think, feel and act. It also contributes to how we cope with stress, how we relate to others, and how we make decisions. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence to adulthood.

There are many factors that influence mental health:

  • Biological factors such as genes or brain chemistry
  • Life experiences such as trauma or abuse
  • Mental health problems in the family history

As the Maya Foundation, this year during Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Month, we want to raise awareness about the impact of “stigma” on our mental health and identify practical steps to address this issue.

STIGMATIZATION

Stigma is when someone judges you negatively because of a particular characteristic or trait (e.g., skin color, cultural background, disability, or mental health problem).

In mental health, stigma is when a person identifies another person with their mental illness rather than as an individual. For example, the person is labeled “psychotic” rather than “person with experiencing psychosis.”

For people with mental health problems, the social stigma and discrimination they experience can exacerbate their problems and make recovery more difficult. It can lead to the person not seeking the help they need due to the fear of stigmatization.

HARMFUL EFFECTS OF STIGMA

Some of the effects of stigma are:

  • Feelings of shame, hopelessness, and isolation
  • Unwillingness to seek help or seek treatment
  • Lack of understanding by family, friends, or others
  • Lack of opportunities for employment or social interaction
  • Bullying, physical violence or harassment
  • Self-doubt – the belief that you can never overcome the disorder or achieve what you want in life.

HOW CAN I HANDLE STIGMA?

Some people may have misconceptions about what certain diagnoses mean or may not be sensitive to mental health issues. They may also use condescending, insulting, or hurtful language. This can be very distressing, especially if the person acting this way is a family member, colleague, or medical professional.

But it’s important to remember that you’re not alone and you don’t have to put up with people who treat you badly. Here are some options you can consider:

  • Get the psychological treatment you need. Don’t let the fear of being labeled as mentally ill stop you from getting help.
  • Don’t believe. If you hear or experience something enough times, you may start to believe it yourself after a while. Mental health problems are not a sign of weakness and are rarely something you can handle on your own. Talking to professionals about your mental health problems will help you on your road to recovery or coping.
  • Don’t hide, seek out contact with others. Talking with people you trust, such as family, friends, your psychologist or healthcare provider, attending a mental health support group or social activity group, online or in person, can help you deal with the feelings that lead to isolation and understand that you are not alone in your feelings and experiences.
  • You are not your illness. Don’t identify yourself with your illness as others do. Instead of saying “I’m schizophrenic,” say “I have schizophrenia” or “I am living with schizophrenia” There is power in language.
  • Don’t take it personally. Remember that other people’s judgments are often due to a lack of understanding. These judgments are made before they have gotten to know you. So don’t assume their opinion has anything to do with you personally.
  • Get help at school. If you or your child has a mental health issue that is affecting learning, you can ask teachers, faculty or administrators about best practices and resources. Educators at the elementary, middle school, and high school levels need to do their best for students.
  • Raise your voice against stigmatization. You could express your ideas at events, by means of various media tools or on the Internet. People who have similar difficulties can encourage and inform others about their mental health problems.

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