The Journal Gazette
Sunday, May 08, 2022 1:00 am

Help remove stigma that clouds insight into mental illness

Tara Holliday

When you Google “stigma,” the definition you will find is something like “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person” (Oxford Languages).

For most of human history, mental illness has been viewed as a “mark of disgrace.” And for a long time, people marked with this “disgrace” have lived in shame, fear and unhappiness. They have dealt with their friends, family and co-workers having all kinds of wrong ideas about the illness they live with.

There are so many negative impacts of stigma that if we described them all, this essay would go on and on. Here are just a few of the consequences:

• Stigma contributes to a lack of understanding and education about mental health. This not only keeps stigma going but makes it harder for people to recognize when they need help.

• Stigma prevents people from seeking help. If they admit they are struggling, they fear judgment from people around them.

• For people who are open about their struggles, negative judgments can affect their self-image, self-confidence and self-esteem. It can even make their illness worse or cause them to stop treatment. They can develop self-stigma when they begin to believe the untrue, negative judgments they hear from others.

(This is adapted from the Mayo Clinic's “Mental health: Overcoming the stigma of mental illness.”)

Enough with the doom and gloom! Stigma, and the shame that it causes, is awful and needs to be stripped from our society.

So what can you do to eliminate stigma? Thankfully, there is a lot that each of us can do.

Talk openly about mental health. Whether you have a diagnosed mental health condition or not, consider sharing your feelings, story, and experiences if you are comfortable.

It is easy to stigmatize “other people” but not so easy to do the same to loved ones. Realizing that someone they know and care about deals with a mental health challenge can help someone to rethink their views (from the National Alliance on Mental Illness, “9 ways to fight mental health stigma”).

• Recognize that you, or a loved one, are more than your/their condition. A diagnosis is just a piece of your life and not the whole pie (Mayo Clinic, “Mental health: Overcoming the stigma of mental illness”).

• Seek help when you need it, whether that's therapy, medication or something else. We all experience hard times now and then. Getting help to get us through is nothing to be ashamed of  (“Mental health: Overcoming the stigma of mental illness”).

Seek education for yourself and support the education of others. Education is a cornerstone of Mental Health America of Northeast Indiana's mission because we know the important role knowledge plays in fighting stigma. That's why we provide low-cost trainings and workshops about mental health for our community.

Thankfully, we have come a long way in the past 50 years (and even the past five years) when it comes to stigma. More and more of your neighbors are recognizing how common mental health challenges are and how unfair it is to treat people affected by them so differently.

There are many ways all of us can continue moving the needle to complete acceptance of everyone facing a mental health challenge.

Tara Holliday is executive director of Mental Health America of Northeast Indiana.

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