If you’ve ever wondered where the stigma towards those with mental illness comes from, the answer is complicated. It’s almost like asking where differences in racial prejudice, political views, religious preference or sports team allegiances come from. It’s difficult to tease apart — we are influenced, and all too easily, by our family, friends, the media, our culture and environment, inaccurate stereotypes and a whole host of other factors.
Rather than figure out where stigma begins, it’s easier to become more aware of what it is and when it occurs. So how do we become more aware of stigma? Let’s start by looking at ourselves. Here’s a brief self-assessment quiz on stigma and mental illness.
True or False:
1) There’s no real difference between the terms “mentally ill” and “has a mental illness.”
2) People with mental illness tend to be dangerous and unpredictable.
3) I would worry about my son or daughter marrying someone with a mental illness.
4) I’ve made fun of people with mental illness in the past.
5) I don’t know if I could trust a coworker who has a mental illness.
6) I’m scared of or stay away from people who appear to have a mental illness.
7) People with a mental illness are lazy or weak and just need to “get over it.”
8) Once someone has a mental illness, they will never recover.
9) I would hesitate to hire someone with a history of mental illness.
10) I’ve used terms like “crazy,” “psycho,” “nut job” or “retarded” in reference to someone with a mental illness
The scoring is simple: one point for every true response. If you scored a zero, congratulate yourself. You’re already on your way to becoming a stigma fighter! The higher your score, though, the more likely it is you’ve had thoughts, feelings or behaviors that can contribute to increased stigma toward people with mental illness.
Now you may be saying, “Wait a minute, I didn’t sign up to be a stigma fighter.” Well, let’s put this into perspective. Have you already signed on to make sure your kids and other passengers in your car wear their seat belts? Did you ever sign on to collect your neighbor’s mail while they were on vacation? Have you ever signed on to give a donation to your favorite cause or charity? If so, then you can do this. Educate yourself about the ways to reduce stigma around mental illness. It’s easier to take a look at ourselves first before we try to change the rest of the world.
A version of this post originally appeared on David Susman’s site.
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