the stigma of mental health issues

simply stephen / February 8, 2011

My friend Davina over at Shades of Crimson commented on the stigma attached with depression and other mental health issues after reading the recent series on how to cope with long term depression. No time like the present to voice some concerns and thoughts on the stigma attached to mental health issues. This is a mini series in itself.

mental health is explored behind closed doors

It is often swept under the covers. People keep it private.

Family members, co-workers and friends aren’t sure how to react and are often counter supportive. Traditional perceptions of mental health issues are attached to sign of weakness in character. This is slowly changing. We know now there are biological reasons and triggers for depressions. Sometimes another disease, medical disorder or medication has created depression as a side effect.

It’s not easy for most people to understand why!

So instead they come up with solutions and comments like “buck it up” or “your a smart person, you can beat this” and so on are harmful. Subtle reactions and assumptions that you are dangerous and should be avoided do more harm than good. Negative judgements and harmful comments are often a part of what someone suffering (yep suffering and in pain) has to go through.

Not pleasant.

Pretty patronizing.

People avoid you, ignore your real needs, dismiss your concerns and expect you to get on with life in a regular fashion. It can lead to shame and low self-esteem or confidence. It certainly gets you angry and frustrated.

This heightens your depression.

end result of attaching a stigma to mental health

Here’s a few of the devastating results

  1. delay of treatment – this often makes recovery harder and longer. A negative impact on health with a potential for permanent damage. They pretend nothing is wrong and may avoid treatment all together because it shows weakness. They are ashamed to get help but without it recovery is unlikely..
  2. poor treatment – not just because health care and insurance may not cover treatment or limit treatment to basic provisions (the least of which should be medication).
  3. abuse – it comes in all forms but many people face discrimination, harassment, violence and rejection. They have a hard time finding work or housing. So called friends and peers reject them. This abuse amplifies the depression making it a virtually impossible cycle to break out of.
  4. isolation & exclusion – daily tasks and even every day tasks we take for granted become impossible to accomplish. The depressed person will slowly hide in a shell and wither away.

If you had cancer, a transplant, nerve disorder or wide selection of medical issues that attitude would be different. They would treat you with respect, concern and care. Those close to you would educate themselves and might even start to participate in active charity work for the specific disease or issue.

We have along way to come but…I think the treatment and acceptance is changing. People are speaking out. In the next article I will talk about what you can do to help change the stigma attached with mental health disorders.

4 thoughts on “the stigma of mental health issues

  1. There is one thing I just don’t get. Your respiratory system gets unwell, you cough. Your gastrointestinal system gets unwell, you vomit. Your skin becomes unwell, you get rashes that itch. Your musculoskeletal system isn’t well, you limp.

    Why the heck is our mind the only body system that isn’t allowed to get ill? It’s a biological system, just like the other ones I mentioned and it too can have periods when it’s not working at its best capacity.

    I believe everyone has issues with mental health at some time, just as everyone has a cough or vomits or limps every now and again. Maybe when we start looking at mental health issues in the same way as we look at pneumonia or eczema or inflammatory bowel disease, people will be more comfortable about getting the help they need.

    Great article, Stephen

  2. Audrey…thanks for the thoughtful comments. So true.

    Our body includes our mind. With so many stressors and toxins around it’s easy to see why we get sick. Stigma is just one barrier to acceptance for mental health issues. Since the mind controls the rest of the body, perhaps it’s time we think of it as our focal point for health.

    In the past I’ve tried to equate sickness from depression with the giants – cancer, Parkinson, MS. You get the point.

    Comparing it to everyday ailments is such a simple analogy that really brings it home. Perhaps another article is in store for the future.

  3. I totally agree with all you say Stephen. I have struggled with issues and have seen some of the negative consequences you listed in your post because of the stigma. Your analogy to illness and Audrey’s comment really do help to put things into perspective, and I also believe that we all suffer from mental health issues at some point in our lives. Unfortunately many of us are too good at hiding it away, but you’re right that it does seem more people are starting to speak out.

  4. Ruth…thanks for dropping by. There really is nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to depression and various mental health disorders, Both the body and mind get tired, so why shouldn’t both get sick. I’m glad to see people voicing opinions and talking about it now since that is the start of a support system and global (or at least local) acceptance in varying degrees.

    Stigma doesn’t seem to attach it self only to depression either…introverts get a bum rap as do creative, artistic and non-traditional workers. Quite the uphill challenge we’ve chosen. Keep at it…the rewards are around the corner.

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