Updated: Feb 20
One billion people are affected by mental health illness worldwide in 2020 according to a report by WHO. In Singapore, 14% have mental health conditions in their lifetime. More than half of them do not get proper treatment or delay seeking one. They are too afraid of being discriminated against or losing their jobs. It could be that they lack trust in the social and healthcare systems that are supposed to protect them. This comes from the stigma that comes with mental health care. Fortunately, there are 8 ways you can end the stigma about mental health care.
There is a big misunderstanding around mental health care. Many people perceive mental illness as just a “phase” or a need for attention or a tantrum. In certain religions and cultures, it is seen as being possessed, or being unfaithful. They are seen as lacking control of themselves and it is their fault they have such conditions.
What is the Stigma About Mental Health Care?
Stigma includes negative attitudes and discriminatory actions against people with mental illness. The stigma often stems from a lack of education and understanding regarding this condition.
The stigma about mental health care is often fueled by the misrepresentation of mental health illnesses in the media. Often, people with mental health illnesses are portrayed in a negative light. In crime dramas, they tend to focus on the actions of the individual with a mental health issue rather than the societal issues that should have been addressed to stop the actions of the individual. This portrayal tells the audience the dangerous narrative that a mentally ill person is dangerous. The reporting of the crimes often heavily emphasise the mental health issue of the individual without discussing the factors that lead up to the action.
Differences in cultural and religious beliefs also affect the stigma about mental illness. In many Asian cultures, like in Singapore, having a mental illness is considered shameful. Asian families tend to take so much pride and honour in themselves. There is a prevalent belief, while it can be true, that mental illness is genetic so that other family members could be mentally-ill too. Therefore, families don’t seek help and try to hide away their kin afflicted by the illness.
In the Hispanic culture, mental illness is often believed to be caused by a lack of faith, having sinful parents, and demons. This implies that mental illness comes from the actions of the person and the people around him.
The Effect of Stigma About Mental Health Care
People with mental health problems are already strained from their illness. Stigma breeds prejudice against them and finally, discrimination. They are prevented from seeking help because of shame. Many of them lack understanding of their diseases. They end up falling deeper into their illness, resulting in self-harm and harm to others. People with mental illness lose hope, have poor relationships with others, experience difficulty at their jobs, and have an increase in mental illness symptoms. They are also often bullied and left out in social groups.
In the sociopolitical arena, the stigma about mental illness and the subsequent lack of knowledge regarding the condition usually causes the governments to knowingly or unknowingly disregard this group. There is often a lack of funding in psychiatric treatment, rehabilitation programs and even information drives. Employers also tend to see mental illness as a sign of weakness. Therefore, opportunities are not given to them to contribute to society.
Here are the 8 ways you can end the stigma about mental health care
The goal of education is to present the facts and counter disinformation and topple stereotypes about mental health care. For example, the idea that criminality is linked with mental illness can be disputed by showing reports of homicide cases and the percentage of actually diagnosed mentally ill people doing those crimes. It has been shown that there is no correlation between the two.
Nowadays, we have access to the internet so that information regarding mental health care is readily available. Studies have shown that many young adults who are experiencing or are in close contact with someone with psychiatric symptoms look to blogs, scientific papers, and other stories to understand mental health. However, more education campaigns have to be done for the rest of the world who don’t have this access.
Reach out to someone with mental illness and get to know them
Being in contact with someone who suffers from the illness is one of the best ways you can end the stigma about mental health care. They become more real to us and their burdens become more apparent.
Lack of contact causes distrust, fear, and uncomfortable feeling towards the different groups. Allowing the sufferers to share their experiences with other people boosts their confidence, empowers them, and lessens self-stigma. The listeners will get a more in-depth understanding of what the other group is experiencing.
Speak up to end the stigma about mental health care
Knowing what you just learned is not enough. To effect change, people who are knowledgeable about mental illness and who have personal experiences with the condition (either with themselves or with someone they know), should speak out to others about what they have learned in the hopes that, they, too, will end the stigma. Nowadays, it is much easier for a broad audience to see information online. Therefore, as someone who wants to end the stigma, we should use the platform in a good way.
For people who have a mental illness, one of the best ways of ending stigma about mental health care is talking openly about their experiences. They can talk about how they are in life, their fears, and their treatment journey. This will help prove that the stereotypes are wrong and this may encourage others to seek help and to open up.
While getting in contact with people with mental disorders gives you an insight into what their illness is about, peer services involve training yourself to be able to guide a person with the condition. With your training, you will offer the person an open, nondiscriminatory environment. The peer can suggest coping mechanisms and help the other identify their problems. Peer service providers can be those with mental illnesses and people who have contact with the former. They should be willing to be trained in the program.
Show compassion and empathy to anyone with a disability
Compassion and empathy is showing that you are concerned about what they are going through regardless if you understand them or not. Show support by being there for them and guiding them with some coping strategies. Learn to modify your language that is based on empathy and not judgement. For example, instead of saying “Just deal with it” or “You will get over it”, say “Thank you for sharing. Is there anything I can do to help?” or “I can not imagine what you are going through, that must be tough.”
It is important to recognize that mental illness does not define the person. People have complexities, personalities, talents, quirks, things that make them laugh and cry, make them fall in love and their hearts broken. Mental illness, like a physical disease, needs to be recognized and treated. A person should refrain from calling someone mentally ill. Instead, practise saying that the person has a mental illness.
Support and join campaigns of Mental Health Advocacy Organisations
Several organisations are actively doing their best to end the stigma about mental health care. They are making a big impact on mental health care.
You can show support by donating to the organisation. You can also be part of the group by becoming their volunteer and joining their training. The simple act of spreading their advocacies is a good way to lessen the stigma around mental health care.
Let anyone know if they are stigmatising
Let the media or your friend know if they are saying negative and uneducated things about mental illness. If you see someone on TV or if a certain movie wrongfully misrepresents the conditions, do not be afraid to correct them by writing to them. Take action on social media and the internet to let people know what stigmatising is like and how it affects the stigmatised group. Correct your friends or even family members when they assume things about a certain group that is wrong.
Treat everyone with respect, no matter who they are
People tend to be prejudiced and discriminatory against a group of people they are not so knowledgeable about because of the stigma. Regardless, any person should be treated with respect and dignity, no matter if it is a physical or mental disability. They should not be hindered from accessing basic commodities, jobs, housing, and social groups.
Mental Illness is affecting millions of people worldwide. But because of the stigma surrounding this condition, many choose to stay silent causing them to spiral into hopelessness, worsening of symptoms and isolation.
Proper education and information campaigns, mental health advocacies, getting in contact with people with mental illness, sharing their thoughts online, or to your group, and treating everyone with respect are just some of the ways you can end the stigma about mental health care. Hopefully, with these ways, more will be able to seek help, share their experiences, get the proper treatment that they need, and eventually lead a fruitful life.