Mental Illness Stigma is Hurting us

My name is Anissa. But, some people may label me as a crazy, and dangerous individual. You may be asking why. No, I have never harmed anyone in my life. But, I have been diagnosed with Bipolar II, Borderline Personality Disorder, PTSD, and Anxiety. Not to mention that there’s the added stress of a stigma attached to every single one of these conditions.

As someone who struggles with this, I knew this was an important topic to bring awareness too. From my perspective, many people are uneducated on the impact this stigma has on those who struggle with a life-disrupting diagnosis.

Mental illness stigma is slowly decreasing in our society. But, that doesn’t mean that it’s still not a prevalent issue. We all have our issues and we have to fight our own demons Every. Single. Day. That doesn’t make us less of an individual. We are strong and capable of the things that those with no mental issues insult us for. Keep that in mind as you read on.

“Your illness is not your identity. Your chemistry is not your character.”

Rick Warren

What is Mental Illness Stigma?

Mental illness stigma can be defined in many ways. The main definition is that it’s “a negative and often unfair social attitude” that can applied too many different areas of life and our society. The commonplace being on those with mental illness. People often place negative attitudes and feelings towards this group of individuals. As a result, it’s harder to open up and seek help when you need it the most.

There have also been numerous stereotypes that have risen from this existing stigma. Some of them including that you are crazy because you see a therapist, or you’re lazy because you have depression.

From these examples I have mentioned, this is the main cause of this stigma. Even though “none of these characterizations are valid.” This makes individuals with mental illness vulnerable. This is a battle that should’t be added too. We should protecting one another, not fearing.

Types of Stigma

It’s important to know the depth of this stigma. Because not only does it happen from others, it happens within ourselves. Stigma ties with discrimination and prejudice. Even if it is a subtle amount, it doesn’t mean that it’s not important to address. If our society took the responsibility of addressing this issue and bringing awareness to the importance of mental health, could ultimately help eradicate this stigma.

There are three types of stigma,

  • Public stigma involves the negative or discriminatory attitudes that others have about mental illness.
  • Self-stigma refers to the negative attitudes, including internalized shame, that people with mental illness have about their own condition. This can be found in four ways: alienation, stereotype endorsement, discrimination experience, and social isolation.
  • Institutional stigma, is more systemic, involving policies of government and private organizations that intentionally or unintentionally limit opportunities for people with mental illness. Examples include lower funding for mental illness research or fewer mental health services relative to other health care.

As you can see, this stigma does not originate from outsiders, but it also occurs internally. Think of public stigma as what I have been communicating throughout this explanation. Refer to the instagram attachment for examples of public stigma.

Secondly, there is self-stigma. I struggle with this distinction of stigma the most. I fight a battle with my own mind every day. Not only do I have image issues, but I also struggle with negative attitudes and thoughts that I don’t share with others as there is a lot of judgement. I destory myself more so than others around me.

Lastly, there is institutional stigma. Even though this distinction is evident in the funding aspect for mental health resources, I also find it in the psych ward itself. This can be a combination of institutional stigma and public stigma. I watched a great slam poetry segment that depicts this issue very well. This resonated with me because I was hospitalized at one point and experienced this first hand.

**TRIGGER WARNING: If you are easily triggered a long the lines of suicidal ideation and/or have trauma associated with institutions, just know that this segment could affect you. Watch at your own discretion.

Anita D performing at IWPS

How to Overcome this Stigma

There are many ways we can overcome the many forms of mental illness stigma.

These include…

  • Talk openly about mental health
  • Educate yourself AND others
  • Be conscious of language
  • Encourage equality between physical and mental illness
  • Show compassion for those with mental illness
  • Choose empowerment over shame
  • Be honest about treatment
  • Let the media know when they’re being stigmatized
  • Don’t harbor self-stigma

If we collectively use our voices, we can easily face mental illness and fight the surrounding stigma. We can make a difference by understanding that mental illness is not anyone’s fault, even if this existing stigma is feeding us that thought. If we collectively decide to live stigma free, we can make a huge impact on societal attitudes towards those with mental illness.

1 thought on “Mental Illness Stigma is Hurting us

  1. Hi Anissa, Thanks for sharing your story, information around the stigma of mental illness, and your own thoughts regarding the stigma. I liked that you included all three types of stigma – public, self, and institutional. It’s important for people to understand that stigma comes from different sources and why or how it comes from these sources. Unfortunately, in order for the public and institutions to have less stigma, they have to: 1) want to understand what mental illness is, and like you mentioned, some people believe it’s “all in the person’s head”; 2) willing to spend money on mental illness; which could mean higher taxes or dividing monies differently and figuring out where it will be taken from in institutions; 3) training to help people understand what mental illness and mental illness stigma looks and sounds like.

    I think it’s also really important for people to understand why self-stigma happens: 1) people with mental illness hear derogatory labels by classmates, co-workers, family, entertainment; 2) people who struggle with mental illness already feel like “somethings wrong with them” and a lot of times this goes on years before they realize that they have a mental illness. They have been telling themselves these same messages for years and it is difficult for them to change their thought process, it’s a daily struggle.

    Thank you for a very important message!

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