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The 7 Different Kinds of Mental Health Stigma

When you think of the word stigma, it conjures up a negative thought. The stigma of mental illness has gotten better over the years, but it is still very prevalent in today’s society. I’m sure if you have a mental illness or know someone who does, you have experienced stigma and have felt it and/or noticed it. However, have you ever thought about how there are different kinds of stigma?

There are actually seven kinds of stigma.

First, there is self-stigma.

This is when the person with a mental illness has listened to others about their mental illness and internalized it. Prior to the diagnosis, they had already formed an opinion about the mental illness. The media, people they know or the way a television show or movie portrayed a character persuaded the person to believe a preconceived idea of what mental illness. The person themselves could have judged people already and formed an opinion. Because of this self-stigma, many people don’t get help or feel like they are somewhat a failure when they receive a diagnosis.

The second kind of stigma is public stigma.

This is when people with mental illnesses are judged and discriminated against. Oftentimes, there is discrimination or prejudice against the mentally ill. The public is not educated. They think that people with mental illnesses are failures, violent or will end up homeless. They think they will no longer be able to contribute to society. Thank goodness, there are some celebrities who have come out to let the public know they have struggled with bipolar disorder, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), borderline personality disorder (BPD), anxiety, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), etc.

Also, the media and Hollywood have started to educate the public. Organizations and events have also been formed to make people more aware of the fallacies surrounding mental illness.

The third kind of stigma is stigma by association.

This is when a loved one, friend or coworker is judged because they hang out with, are related to or somehow don’t go along with what others think. Oftentimes, these people are judged too. People think a family member is to blame or a friend tolerates someone because they have to. Oftentimes, these people become advocates. This is a good thing because they can educate others and show the person is just someone who has an illness that affects their brain. This is not a anything different than any other illness. These advocates can testify in most cases the person is not dangerous and can lead “normal” lives.

The fourth kind of stigma is structural stigma.

This is when a police officer, paramedic, a politician, correction officer, teacher or judge has a prejudice against people with mental illnesses. This can be very dangerous as this could result in death! There are programs that are starting to be formed to help educate these individuals and help them deal with someone in crisis. For example, Crisis Intervention Team and Mental Health First Aid. Also, many cities are using counselors or social workers when responding to calls involving someone experiencing an emotional crisis. This is somewhat controversial, but has shown to be successful in some cities. Here are some of the cities that have used this tactic. You can decide for yourself if they have been successful.

The fifth kind of stigma is perceived stigma.

This is where people have drawn conclusions that people with mental illnesses are dangerous, “crazy,” menaces to society, can’t contribute to society, and are basically a menace to society. This can be the farthest from the truth. There are some people who have severe mental illnesses that need to be hospitalized in some way or are homeless, but in many cases this can be avoided with proper funding and programs that help people. Also, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association, “people with major mental illness are 2.5 times more likely to be the victims of violence than other members of society.” More on this can be found here. And, according to mentalhealth.gov, “The vast majority of people with mental health problems are no more likely to be violent than anyone else.”

The sixth kind of stigma is label avoidance.

This can cause people to not get help. Most mental illnesses can be treated. However, people are afraid to have the diagnosis of a mental illness because they think they will be judged or it is something they should be ashamed of. They think that they did something wrong and caused it. They might also think they are weak. Parents might fear that their child would be treated differently if they are diagnosed with a mental illness. Bullying or being put in a different class might be fears. However, not getting them the help they need might cause more harm. Chances are the illness could be treated and this would be life-altering.

The seventh and last kind of stigma is health practitioner stigma.

This might seem kind of silly, but can be quite common. The nurse or doctor might miss a medical problem by dismissing the patient’s symptoms, thinking it is “all in their head.” This all can be very dangerous for obvious reasons. The physicians allow their own prejudices and stereotypes to affect their patients care.

If you talk to someone with a mental illness who also has had physical problems, they will be able testify that this has happened to them. I have talked to and read blogs of people this happened to and I can tell you it is very common. In fact, this has happened to me on numerous occasions. Two examples: My physical complaints were ignored and I ended up in ICU for heart problems one time and needed my gallbladder taken out another time. I was actually told by one doctor to not disclose I had bipolar disorder if I had to go to the emergency room. He went as far as even telling me to not disclose the psychiatric medications I was on at first.

This kind of stigma doesn’t just prevent doctors from diagnosing problems. It can also lead to nurses and doctors to treating patients poorly. This is also something I have heard many people say. It is not just primary care doctors, ER doctors and nurses. It also extends to staff on psychiatric floors. I wrote a blog about this.

In conclusion, it does not matter what kind of stigma someone is faced with; it can be detrimental or dangerous. If you are allowing stigma to prevent you from getting help, I urge you to seek out help. Chances are it can be treated and there is no reason to suffer. If you have a mental illness, I want you to know that you should be proud of yourself for getting through the days and for seeking out help.  I have been seeing an improvement in the stigma over the past 35 years since I was diagnosed. My hope is that it continues to get better.

Photo by Keenan Constance on Unsplash

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