Growing up, I could always feel my mom’s eyes on me as I walked into the kitchen. She would watch me as I grabbed food, whether this was in my own home or in someone else’s, to make sure that I was taking an “appropriate” amount of food. While this seems like a small act, it led to me developing a sense of body dysmorphia, as well as severe anxiety over food.
Mental health can be a very traumatizing thing to open up about due to the stigma surrounding it. It took me well into my 20s before I realized the impact of my mom’s behavior, and how it had shaped my entire childhood.
Seeking mental health help can almost feel like admitting that something is wrong with you. It brings up thoughts of “Will others treat me differently if they find out?” The mental health stigma only forces the struggling person deeper into their inner turmoil and causes more harm to someone who simply needs help.
Little known facts about mental health
In 2020, mental health statistics showed that 1 in 5 American adults experienced a mental health issue, 1 in 6 young people experienced a major depressive episode, and 1 in 20 Americans lived with a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression. (Psychiatry.org)
If we consider how many people suffer from mental illness, we can see it is not a rare phenomenon. It affects more of us than we think and most of it is rooted in our Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). It’s not our fault.
So, why is there so much mental health stigma?
Why would someone not seek help for a mental disorder?
There are two types of mental health stigma we need to be aware of:
- Stereotypes and prejudice, and
Stereotypes and prejudice lead to the public viewing people with mental health problems as dangerous, incompetent, and unpredictable. It leads people to place the blame on the person suffering. This stereotyping and these harmful attitudes have become the norm. Unfortunately, this guides the person suffering from mental health issues into a narrative where they blame themselves.
All this blame and the accompanying shame of battling a mental health disorder block people from reaching out and getting the help they need.
The second type of mental health stigma is discrimination. Discrimination against people battling mental illness leads to employers not hiring people, landlords refusing to rent, and the health care system turning a blind eye. It seems like society tends to punish someone with a mental illness, rather than simply give them access to the help they need. This detrimental loss of opportunity spirals, and in the end, the blame is placed on the person with mental illness for “not trying hard enough.”
Problems with mental health and the stigma
Breaking this societal mental health stigma is of utmost importance. A 2019 national poll conducted by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) found that only 1 in 5 workers feel comfortable discussing mental health in the workplace.
This poll also found that there is a generational stigma regarding mental health. Millennials are almost twice as likely as boomers to be comfortable in an open conversation regarding mental health.
Mental health stigma examples and effects
Some of the harmful effects of mental health stigma can include:
- Reluctance to seek help or treatment,
- Lack of understanding by family, friends, co-workers, or others
- Fewer opportunities for work, school, social activities, or trouble finding housing,
- Bullying, physical violence, or harassment,
- Health insurance that doesn’t adequately cover your mental illness treatment,
- The belief that you’ll never succeed at certain challenges or that you can’t improve your situation (Mayoclinic.org)
Stigma as a barrier to mental health care
A 2020 national survey of 14 to 22-year-olds found that 90 percent of teens and young adults experiencing symptoms of depression are researching mental health issues online and most are accessing other people’s health stories through blogs, podcasts, and videos.
Forcing people to be ashamed of their mental health takes away from their journey, and it also hinders others. No one wants to feel alone, we all wish there was someone who understood what we are going through. Creating a safe and open environment for the discussion of topics regarding mental health will help break the stigma.
Let’s end the mental health stigma. You can help!
Prevention of mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders focuses on addressing known risk factors such as exposure to trauma and ACEs that can increase the chances of children and young adults developing mental health problems.
Promoting the social-emotional well-being of children and youth leads to:
- Higher overall productivity,
- Better educational outcomes,
- Lower crime rates,
- Stronger economies,
- Lower health care costs,
- Improved quality of life,
- Increased lifespan,
- Improved family life. (Mentalhealth.gov)
How to promote mental health in the community
The best way to promote mental health in the community is by talking about it! Being open, honest, and vulnerable with others allows them the comfort of knowing that they can do the same. Allowing others to be vulnerable with their struggles takes a weight off their shoulders.
You can also reach out and look for other resources that align with what you’re looking for. You can, for example, look for mental health professionals at Psychologytoday.com, try Online Therapy, or you can call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Assistance (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
Seeking help for your mental health does not make you weaker or less than. It actually shows you are courageous and makes you an active agent in breaking the mental health stigma in our society!
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Bisma is a recent graduate from CUNY Baruch College, majoring in Communications. She likes long drives, exploring new parks, trying new food, and making a positive change in the world.