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  1. #1
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    Mental Illness Stigma

    Mental Illness Stigma
    About one in six people suffer or will suffer from mental illness at some point in their life. Mood and anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, depression, substance abuse problems, ADHD, Alzheimer disease ... any of these and other mental illnesses can affect people of all ages, ethnicities and income levels. Yet, there is a stigma surrounding mental health problems. People suffering mental illness are one of the most socially excluded groups among mankind.

    What is stigma?
    If people appear to be different from what is expected by average norms, there is a tendency to attach a label to them, which marks and distinguishes them from the rest of society.

    Our views and interpretations of mental health problems are frequently distorted by the media. They present us with negative images and misconceptions of people suffering mental illnesses. Common misconceptions are that people with mental disorders are to be feared and kept out of community, because they are dangerous, violent and unpredictable individuals, and that they are irresponsible. These inaccurate representations shape the public's perception of those who suffer from mental disorders as people to be feared and avoided.

    However, media alone can not be held responsible for the stigma around mental illnesses. Stigma is in general often caused by a lack of understanding and knowledge.

    What are the consequences of stigma?
    Unfortunately public attitudes towards people with mental illness seem to have become more stigmatizing over the last decades.

    The typical reaction encountered by someone with a mental health issue is fear and rejection. Individuals with a mental health problem experience stigma in all areas of their life. Stigma surrounding mental disorders can limit opportunities, it can make it difficult to maintain or find a job, it can increase feelings of loneliness and isolation, and it can cause many other unfortunate outcomes.

    People trying to overcome a mental health problem constantly face rejection and exclusion. Most will experience some form of discrimination, whether in the workplace, health insurance or social environments.

    Another consequence can be self-stigma: people with mental disorder may start to accept these negative beliefs, lose self-esteem and self-efficacy and respond to these prejudices by adapting their behaviour, such as by social isolation.

    The most damaging effect of stigma is the unwillingness of people to seek help. Nearly two thirds of all people with a diagnosable mental disorder do not seek treatment. Stigma is what keeps many people from seeking the help they need, because of the shame associated with their illness. For some people, the stigma is so great that they do not even tell family and friends what they are going through. The first, best way to reduce stigma is to educate the public on mental illness.

    How can we reduce stigma?
    Stigma is primarily a social problem that should be addressed by a public approach. In many countries advocacy groups have actively targeted stigma in an attempt to improve the lives of persons with mental illness. The first, best way to reduce stigma is to educate the public on mental illness.

    When stigma could be reduced in society, people with a mental disorder would be more honest about their disease, which would lead to early diagnosis, improved recovery and compliance as well as less risk of relapse.

    People should know that:

    • No one asks for a mental illness. Some are caused by chemical imbalances in the body. Some people are genetically predisposed to certain types of the disease. Some are a result of a temporarily overload of stress, grief, pain, sadness or difficult circumstances.
    • Most mental illness will, if treated properly, be cured or at least controlled. Treatment will be profoundly more successful when the person who is suffering enjoys the support of people surrounding him, such as friends and family. Mental illness is not something a sufferer can simply get rid of by force of will.
    • The diseases are not signs of weakness or lack of intelligence. Mental illness can affect anyone at any time

    Some tips of how we all can help fight the stigmatization of those who are suffering from mental illness:

    • Be careful with your words. Terms such as "looney", "nuts", "wacko" or "psycho" are offensive not only to those who are suffering with mental disease but also their family and friends. Words reinforce incorrect stereotypes and drive people who need help into hiding
    • Accept that mental illness is a real illness, as real as diabetes or cancer. Its causes are well known and there exists a variety of treatment options
    • Learn about the facts on mental illness, its symptoms and treatments. Find out where to get help.
    • Have an open mind about people who have a mental illness. The disease is only one part of who they are

    Stigma must, and can, be overcome. Everyone suffering mental illness should know that it is not their fault and that it is ok to ask for help. It doesn't matter how a person develops a mental health problem. Please ask advice and consult your doctor.

  2. #2
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    Re: Mental Illness Stigma

    That was a great article, David. For some reason, I hadn't noticed this thread before, but when I did, it was one of the first places I turned to this morning. I personally had a really hard time after I had the manic episode in 2004 and, in the process of losing everything I'd had, also found that I couldn't turn to my family for support. My own daughter didn't speak to me for months, and even to this day, my stepdaughter speaks to me only rarely (as when she happens to be present, or if there is some purpose.) E-mails and phone messages given to people whom I thought were good friends were not returned, and I felt forced into isolation. Also, since it was not clear to me at the time whether I could trust the mental health people or their diagnoses and options for treatment, I never followed through with treatment in the early stages when it could have been most beneficial. For a long time, I figured it was all caused by the klonopin, and that once I'd gotten off of that particular drug, I would eventually get better. But this increased my sense of isolation. I neither had family, nor did I have the benefit of counseling and psychiatry, for a long time.

    In my case, I believe I did get better after getting off the klonopin, and that my recovery occurred gradually. However, ironically, once I was sufficiently improved, I was clear enough in my thinking to realize that I had actually had a very severe manic episode, irrespective of the klonopin, that I could have one again, and that I absolutely needed treatment.

    Even now that I'm in therapy and on medication again, I find myself tending to isolate because of the stigma. It's hard to be around places where I will be referred to as "nuts" or a "loonie," such as the cafe where I hung out when I first had the episode. And it's hard to be around people who are very critical of some of the choices I have made on account of my disorder. I think this is the "self-stigma" that the article points out:

    "Another consequence can be self-stigma: people with mental disorder may start to accept these negative beliefs, lose self-esteem and self-efficacy and respond to these prejudices by adapting their behaviour, such as by social isolation."

    Another thing is that it is hard to be morally judged for choices I made when I was not in command of my faculties. It's equally hard to recognize that I am responsible for the consequences of these choices, whether I made them when I was "psycho" or not. I wish more people would recognize this fact:

    "No one asks for a mental illness. Some are caused by chemical imbalances in the body. Some people are genetically predisposed to certain types of the disease. Some are a result of a temporarily overload of stress, grief, pain, sadness or difficult circumstances."

    On the bright side, since I have been diagnosed with this disorder, I have met some truly wonderful people who manage to live very effectively within the limitations of their conditions. Once I get to know them, I find them very easy to love and accept. It becomes easier to see that they are deeper than the symptoms one tends to notice upon first impression. So my acceptance of my own disorder is helping me to do the following:

    "Have an open mind about people who have a mental illness. The disease is only one part of who they are."

  3. #3
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    Re: Mental Illness Stigma

    "Have an open mind about people who have a mental illness. The disease is only one part of who they are."
    Good thing to remember, SG

    Thanks

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