A stigma refers to a sense of shame or a feeling of contempt attached to a particular person or a group based on their condition. The focus of our conversation will be the stigma that has consumed mental health.
There are more than 52 million Americans who endure some type of mental disorder and subsequently, many find themselves on the receiving end of condemnation.
Patients who suffer from mental illness embody one of the most widely stigmatized groups in the United States.
Whatever the reason why a person is depressed, if that individual starts showing abnormal signs of behavior, he/she may face ridicule and taunts as a result, depending on the circumstances.
It should be noted that the reverse is also true. Those that are bullied are also prone to depression. Such is the case of the tragic situation with Adriana Olivia Kuch who committed suicide after an alleged attack by four teens in her New Jersey high school.
So whether it is that a student is depressed before or after the fact, displaying signs of depression can only lead to more issues when at school, since other students may see that person as ‘different’.
People who are not educated about the perception of depression are unable to comprehend that it may be more than a state of mind. It is certainly plausible to believe that this person may need medication or a psychological evaluation if he/she feels depressed continuously.
Individuals who suffer from a mental disorder are already prone to feeling disgruntled and disheartened. It is only logical to assume that upon encountering a negative attitude from others around them, they will feel more demoralized and discouraged. A stigma serves as a barrier for those who are already in considerable pain.
A new initiative has been launched in recent years where personalities wear custom shoes with pink laces to support breast cancer awareness or rainbow laces to support LGBT groups. This is not just a marketing gimmick to attract attention or stay in the good books of the public, but a way to enlighten others.
Now, imagine if instead of such a move, people engage in jeers and mockery. Tormenting those who are experiencing a hardship of the mental variety will not have a favorable outcome and may even drive them to act recklessly. Its societal effects include being ostracized and excluded.
Also, low esteem is likely to abound from a prevalent stigma. The recent school shootings may be the result of bullying from a person with low self-esteem, at least to a point. Eradicating the stigma of mental illness may be one step in combating these violent tendencies or at least help to reduce or delay the chances of an extremely violent outburst. Like cancers, bullying an individual, especially based on any form of stigmatization is a curse that no one wants.
How to Fight It?
The statistics regarding mental health patients are alarming. They delineate that 1 in 5 adults in the USA, which is roughly 44 million people, suffer from a mental illness in a given year.
1 in 25 adults experiences a serious mental condition whereas 1 in 5 children is likely to suffer from a mental issue in their youth, and approximately 450 million people suffer from a mental health problem worldwide.
That is a damning example of how mental issues can manifest so early in our lives; hence, another means that should be addressed by the medical profession. Additionally, this type of stigma is to converse freely about mental health. People should be encouraged to discuss the problems they face and they should be provided with a forum to do just that.
For instance, there are therapy groups and even on Facebook and websites where people can discuss their mental health concerns openly using their moniker or with anonymity if they wish. A person who has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or a bipolar patient can write about their problems online and find a supportive audience in the process. This will give those who take mental health for granted an authentic, firsthand account of the trials and tribulations of people who suffer from mental issues.
An extension of the first method is to educate oneself about the types of mental conditions, what they entail, and how the illness affects patients. If you devote time to those who are suffering or give them a shoulder to cry on, you will learn much more about mental disorders. A small act of kindness will go a long way to eliminate the stigma of mental health. Any movement starts with one individual and if more people adopt the same approach, a positive difference can be made.
Another suggestion is to mind your language. Quite often, youngsters and even adults may use terminology such as ‘retard’ to describe someone who they consider an outcast. The person on the receiving end of their remarks may be actually suffering from a mental disease. Therefore, individuals should refrain from using such works as adjectives to describe others and show a modicum of respect and compassion.
Speaking of which, it is encouraged that people show kindness to those who exhibit mental disorders. This is why schools often plan academic trips to mental facilities where gifted children reside. Interacting with them will represent a learning curve for students and ensure that they are a little more sympathetic and thoughtful in their daily lives.
These are just some of the ways we can combat the stigma affecting mental health. A little effort can hopefully signal a shift towards a more understanding society and that in turn can help to be an alternative to someone turning to violence.
Having sympathy and compassion for an individual who is mentally ill is of course encouraged, but we would be remiss if we didn’t address a contrarian viewpoint regarding people with mental issues. If there is any sign of a person showing potential violent tendencies, through verbal statements, social posting, or just a change of normal routine or behavior that you think may lead to violence, the proper authorities must know about it. It may be difficult for a family member to do this, but it is always better to be safe than sorry. It’s possible that the individual may not just be dangerous to others, but he/she may also be dangerous to themselves. As they say “If you see something, say something!”.