Stigma can be defined as a sign of dishonour, which ultimately has the power to set an individual apart from others. Mental health stigma remains a dominant negative attribute amongst society, owing to the fact that many people still perceive mental illness as a sign of weakness. It is no secret that there is a veil of shame surrounding mental illness, and this undoubtedly makes life more difficult for those going through mental health challenges.
I would like to start by setting it straight: defining stigma as it really is, because change starts with using precise language. It is practically a sense of social exclusion and discrimination. Amidst all the sugar coating, deep down we all know that all the negative stereotypes that shame those with mental illness remain nothing less than blatant, prejudicial outlooks. This brings us to our next point of discussion. Many people with mental illness are challenged doubly. On one hand, they are continuously struggling with the symptoms that result from their psychiatric condition. On the other hand, they are challenged by the prejudice that result from labels and misconceptions about their mental illness. It is not uncommon to hear comments such as that people with mental health difficulties may be more violent, less bright or less successful than people without such problems. But, who are we to judge anyone, really?
It is no surprise that a significant number of persons suffering from mental health illness continuously have to make efforts to conceal their illness from others, because they know they can easily be mistreated or regarded differently than someone else based on their circumstances. Unfortunately, secrecy can be degrading as it acts as an obstacle to the presentation and treatment of mental illness. There is no denying that people with mental disorders are constantly robbed of valuable means of potential support and opportunities. All this discrimination makes it even harder to bear through everyday life situations, and favours the promotion of a loss in productivity, poor sleep habits, withdrawal from social situations as well as suicidal ideation.
Nonetheless, there must be something we can all do to decrease mental health stigma. Remember, little by little, one travels far. The way forward requires our active participation. A good starting point is to characterize all judgmental viewpoints surrounding mental illness by labelling them exactly what they are: intolerance for a group of individuals. Media coverage is essential to spread positive mental health messages, while challenging current misrepresentations by promoting social inclusion and reducing discrimination. But, ultimately, it goes beyond all this. It should be all about getting to the root of the problem by fixing systemic issues, such as creating a good environment as well as sound policies that help people with mental illness seek proper care from medical professionals, as opposed to continuing suffering in silence, as well as inducing more workplace initiatives that support individuals that are dealing with a psychological disorder.
Whatever we seek to do, we all need to remember that everyone can lend their voice to suppress mental health stigma. In today’s busy world, we are all presented with two choices: Be it the widespread reduction of prejudice against people with mental illness, or the maintenance, through disinterest, of the status quo? It is in your hands to decide, but remember, mental health illness can also reach you, your family members or close friends. So, always choose your words and actions wisely.