Despite mental health becoming a prominent part of conversation in modern society, the stigma of being one of the millions of people with a mental health illness still stands strong.
Americans with mental illnesses fight their battles on two fronts — struggling with the symptoms of the diagnosis as well as the stereotypes surrounding mental health. Nearly 1 in 5 U.S. adults live with a mental illness. In fact, the numbers are rising annually — in 2018, 19% of American adults experienced a mental illness, an increase of 1.5 million people over the previous year.
If so many Americans are struggling with short-term or long-term mental illnesses every day, what is the current stigma surrounding mental illness?
Why Is There a Stigma Associated with Mental Illness?
Often, stigma stems simply from a lack of understanding or fear of mental illnesses. There are 3 basic types of stigma around mental health: public stigma, self stigma, and institutional stigma.
Public stigma revolves around the negative thoughts the general public has about mental illness. This can range from calling someone “crazy” who is mumbling to themselves on the subway to staying clear of acquaintances you know are in therapy.
Self stigma involves the shame and negative thoughts mentally ill people think about themselves. These ideas are cultivated through public stigma and institutional stigma.
Institutional stigma includes mental health not being covered by many insurance companies or policies that limit opportunities for those with diagnosed mental illnesses. Media representation, from news media to television and movies, also often paints a negative picture of Americans struggling with mental health.
Different cultures also have varied relationships with mental health and its stigma.
According to a Columbia University study, Black adults are 20% more likely to have mental health problems than white adults, including major depressive disorder or generalized anxiety disorder. However, Black young adults between 18 and 25 are also less likely to seek therapeutic services than white young adults.
Similarly, many members of the LGBTQ community also struggle with mental health. About 4.5% of the U.S. population identifies a lesbian, gay, or bisexual. Of that group, more than 39% reported struggling with their mental health in 2018. That’s about 5.8 million Americans, or more than the entire population of Kentucky. Unfortunately, much of the queer community also doesn’t feel safe confiding in mental health experts because of the double stigma of mental illness and being gay.
How to Reduce the Stigma of Mental Illness
Talking openly and honestly about the truths of mental health is the easiest way to fight the stigma of mental illness every day. Being truthful in safe spaces about personal journeys is a great first step.
Social media isn’t always good for mental health. However, many celebrities have recently been more open with their own struggles, both humanizing them and opening the eyes of their fans to the fact that mental illness can affect anyone.
The Internet and social media also let regular citizens interact with the media. If you see something on tv or in a movie that reinforces negative stereotypes of mentally ill people, write to the production company. Or if a friend or family member uses a diagnosis to describe a negative action or calls something “insane,” remind them of the stigma that comes with their word choices.
While people are often open with physical health struggles, like cancer or a broken bone, many hide mental health struggles. Encouraging an equality between physical illnesses and mental illnesses can also help break the stigma.
Another easy step for those not affected by mental health issues is to show compassion and support for those who are. When you learn a friend or family member is struggling with mental health, don’t dismiss their concerns or make them feel different. Instead, offer support, whether it’s researching treatment options, offering an ear to listen, or just a shoulder to cry on when things go wrong.
When it comes to mental health, no one can fight an uphill battle alone. If you’re struggling with depression, anxiety, or any mood disorder, we’re here to help.
Contact us today to set up an appointment and help stop the stigma of being “too strong” to need help.