Compassion and Awareness Help Reduce Stigma Towards Those Suffering from Mental Illness
Human beings are very adept at slapping a negative label onto another human being who provokes some sort of uncomfortable response in him or herself. Stigma is the result of the default negative attitude, belief, or behavior directed towards others who make them feel fearful on a subconscious level. When someone’s behaviors are not understood—but cause us to feel fearful—our kneejerk reaction is to call them derogatory names, to avoid interaction with them, and to discriminate against them.
When it comes to the stigma related to mental illness, most of us are guilty to some degree. This common stigma is the result of a lack of education about mental health disorders combined with a lack of compassion towards someone who is in psychological pain. Even if we don’t outwardly display hostility or disrespect towards the suffering individual, we may ignore them or avoid interacting with them, only increasing their pain.
Awareness Reduces Mental Health Stigma
Much work needs to be done in the effort to end mental health stigmas, starting with information and awareness. Thankfully, our digital age has led to the ability to inform vast numbers of readers instantaneously about the various mental health conditions that plague so many individuals. Various news platforms now include articles on depression rates, the pervasiveness of anxiety, or substance use disorders on a regular basis. Circulating these informative news stories on a wide scale increases awareness substantially.
The end of mental health stigma is dependent not only on the dissemination of the facts about each disorder but also on the various ways to effectively treat them. Part of what creates the stigma in the first place is a sense of helplessness, people not knowing what to do about helping someone—or themselves—with mental illness. As awareness increases and the general public becomes better informed about treatment, stigma will be reduced.
Mental Health Disorders are Common
Another benefit of the Internet’s role in educating people about mental health conditions, thus leading to the end of mental illness stigma, is the realization of how common these disorders are. So ashamed are they, many suffer in silence with their deep depression, stigmatized into not seeking treatment. But when they read an article that states how about 16 million people in the U.S. suffer a depressive disorder in any given year, they may not feel so alone in their illness and be willing to get needed help as a result.
Anxiety rates—including generalized anxiety, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and social anxiety—top 40 million sufferers per year. As people become more aware of the prevalence of mental illness they may become more understanding and sensitive to those who battle these debilitating illnesses rather than slap a derogatory label on them. Learning about how trauma and/or abuse may have led to the development of someone’s mental health disorder can result in a more compassionate response.
Tips for Reducing Mental Illness Stigma
Once we all accept the fact that our own biases and fears may have caused us to become insensitive and judgmental towards someone with a mental illness, then we can take steps to change our attitudes. Here are some tips for ending the mental health stigma:
- Be a positive role model by showing compassion towards someone with mental illness.
- Understand that someone suffering from mental illness may look perfectly healthy on the outside but are suffering intense pain internally.
- Don’t be fearful of a person with a mental health disorder.
- Become educated about the facts and causes of mental health conditions.
- Avoid the kneejerk response to label someone who is suffering from mental illness.