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Mental Health Problems and Stigma

If you have a mental health problem, you may worry about what other people will think. This concern sometimes stops people from getting help. It is important to know that mental health problems are not a sign of weakness or moral failing, but treatable problems that many people face.

What is stigma?

People sometimes have negative views about things they don't understand, such as mental health problems. This is called stigma. Because of stigma, some people may believe things about mental health problems that aren't true. Other people may have good intentions but feel uncomfortable when they find out you have a mental health problem. Either can make people treat you and your family differently.

Stigma happens when others:

  • Don't understand the mental health problem or have negative biases about it

  • Don't realize that a mental health problem is an illness that can be treated successfully

  • Think that a mental health problem is "your own fault" or that you can "just get over it"

  • Are afraid they might someday have a mental health problem themselves

Unfortunately, other people’s stigma can lead you to feel shame or guilt about having a mental health problem. You may not want even your friends to know. This is called "self-stigma," and it is risky, watch out for it.  It can keep you from getting treatment or working toward your personal goals (like finding work) even though having a mental health problem is nothing to be ashamed of.

Overcoming stigma

Respecting yourself is an important part of your recovery. Don't let others define you or your future, and don’t let guilt or shame keep you from getting help. You can reach goals that are important to you.

Here are some ways to help protect yourself from feeling bad due to other’s stigma:

  • Focus on and grow your strengths and use them to strive for your goals. 

  • Remind yourself that you have many different facets to yourself; you are not defined by your illness

  • Learn about your mental health problem and treatment so you have correct information

  • Remind yourself that the stigmatizing things you hear from others come from ignorance and fear, they are not true.

  • Spend time with people and organizations, including mental health services, who respect you as a person and support your goals.

Other people’s mistaken beliefs are not your responsibility or your fault. However, it is important that we all play a part in breaking down mistaken beliefs about mental illness when we can.   

Your attitude and actions can influence what others think. Be as honest as you can with people and show them the many facets of who you really are. When people see that capable, intelligent, interesting, responsible, “real” people have mental health problems, they are more likely to get past their negative views.

Here are some other ways you can help others better understand mental health problems:

  • Let them know that your mental health problem is a medical problem that can be treated.

  • Talk about your recovery. This can help them understand your challenges and appreciate your accomplishments.

  • Show them your strengths and talents. Don't let your mental health problem keep you from going after things you want to do.

  • Remember that "you are the message." You can show how you want to be treated by treating yourself with respect.

  • Work with your loved ones and healthcare providers to set goals. Let them know what changes you want to make in your life.

  • Respect your own boundaries. You have a right to keep personal information private or walk away rather than trying to educate someone when you feel it is best for you and your health.

Author: StayWell Custom Communications
Last Annual Review Date: 3/1/2019
Copyright © The StayWell Company, LLC. except where otherwise noted.
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