You Can Help Stop the Mental Health Stigma Today

Venturing into the world of medication for your mental health can open the gates to all the feels. It did for me and it was a rough decision to make. I don’t know what exactly was the hardest part about accepting medication into my life, but it was a decision I fought for a while. Only when it became a matter of necessity did I accept the fact that medicine was needed in order for me to live a more stable and somewhat happy life.

Helping yourself is really hard when you’re depressed, but I think the main struggle I had was with the negative stigmas that are attached to medication for mental health, in addition to the stigmas surrounding mental health issues in general. Most people are unaware of how people stigmatize those with conditions like depression and anxiety but it’s no different than anything else in life. People see something different from themselves, they label it negatively because they are close minded and/or insecure, and then they make it into a mass societal judgement. Here’s how it pans out:

Social Stigma

Social stigma is the disapproval or negative judgements made on accounts of social characteristics or behaviors. Basically it’s how bullies react. They see something they don’t like and they attack through their disapproval. Social stigma is something that affects someone that isn’t “perfect” or “right” in the eyes of society. Obesity, mental illnesses, gender, race and ethnicity, etc. are all traits and topics that have social stigmas attached to them.

Examples of social stigma: 

“People who suffer from depression have no willpower”
“People who have anxiety just need to calm down”
“People who have depression are dangerous”
“People of who have anxiety are dramatic”

You get the point, and these social stigmas surround us daily in all forms and in all topics.

Self-Stigma

Self-stigma is when outside judgements become your own. You believe you are weak, not worthy, or ugly based on society’s perception of people such as yourself. Self-stigma is internalized due to outside noise. This stigma plays off social stigma – we hear it, we think it, we believe it, we act on it.

Examples of self-stigma:

Society says “people who suffer from depression have no willpower”. This then leads to me validating this thought, “Maybe they’re right. It’s extremely hard for me to do anything right now, maybe I’m just extremely lazy”. This thought then leads to self-destructive thoughts like, “I’m so lazy, no one should want to be in my life, I am a low life”, and from there one might result in an action of causing harm to themselves through avoiding friends and family, believing they aren’t worthy of good things and only accepting bad situations into their lives, or they result in self-harm.

Past and Present Mental Health Care

The shift in ideas and perceptions about those how suffer mentally has drastically changed from the 13th century to now. Back in ancient times, those who had a mental illness were considered “insane”. From mental asylums to institutions, thoughts and treatments were heavily influenced by the church. As the Scientific Revolution emerged during the mid 1500s,  more facts and thoughts became public and beliefs changed, yet brutal treatment still existed. From people being locked in dungeons, to being treated like prisoners, the stigma was still heavily present, but it was more hidden from the public.

From that point until around the 1960s more and more research was being conducted, and more doctors around the world were calling for more humane treatment of the mentally ill. It wasn’t until 1954 that antipsychotics were first introduced to the medical world. Come 1963, JFK signed the Mental Retardation Facilities and Community Mental Health Centers Construction Act, which provided federal support and funding for community mental health centers which allowed institutions and asylums to close down and allow those suffering to get health care locally within their own communities. As wonderful as that was, many were unable to get help for numerous reasons, mainly lack of funds, which led to many ending up in the streets which led to drug use and involvement in crime. A lot of homeless people even today suffer from mental illnesses but have been subjected to a life without help, communication, medication, and stable living situations, which only leads to illnesses becoming worse.

Nowadays, our mental health care is much better, but it’s dependent on location. I won’t lie, shit is expensive. Therapy for me is about $100/week (she gave me a discount) and it is NOT covered by insurance. Medications add up, in addition to doctor visits, psychiatrist visits, etc. There is also a lack of practitioners who can truly help. (For those who don’t know, a psychiatrist monitors your medication. Whether it be anti-depressants, anti-anxiety medication, etc., they are the ones prescribing, monitoring, and adjusting as needed.) Most times a patient will sit with a psychiatrist for maybe 20 minutes if they’re lucky and see them once every three months. For those who suffer drastic episodes, this outpatient care is not sufficient enough. Budget cuts are typically to blame for the lack of good mental health care…There are too little to help and too many that need the help.

Most times because of these stigmas and prejudices, people avoid their issues and avoid help. Insert my story. I knew how people looked at others in high school who suffered from depression. I know what they said and how they joked about them. I hid from my depression and anxiety for fear of what others would think of me and because of what they would say. I was bullied enough as a kid, I didn’t want to give people more ammo. Because of that, I built my walls so high and forced such a tough skin that I couldn’t even accept that maybe something was wrong. I wouldn’t talk about it at all. Had those stigmas not existed, I know a lot of people who would have led far better lives and who could have gotten the help they needed. Instead they avoided it and many have had to go to rehab for either addiction to drugs or alcohol or for their eating disorders.

How to Help for a Better Future

We need to end discrimination (in every aspect), we need to end prejudice, and we need to end stigmas and stereotypes. In order for everyone to mentally advance as a species, we need to start minding our own damn business and stop inserting our unwanted opinions, that’s first off.

Second, we need to be more open minded and accepting of others who are different from ourselves. Start difficult conversations with friends, learn more about mental health and educate yourselves on what is really going on. Stop basing your personal opinions on what others think. Whether it is your parents, grandparents, friends, neighbors, or Facebook “friends”, stop following the pack and decide for yourself how you truly feel about a topic.

Third, be more inclusive. If you see someone sitting alone, go up and talk to them. Stop trolling on the internet. Stop bullying other people from the comfort of your cell phone. Stop thinking being a “bitch” is a compliment and something to be desired. Stop partaking in stereotypes and labels. Be a positive leader and role model, not a measly follower of what you think makes you “cool”.

Being nice is the new “cool” and guess what, its always in style.


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