How Does Stigma Affect Mental Health Treatment?

mental health stigma

How Does Stigma Affect Mental Health Treatment?

September 12, 2022

In recent years, there has been a transformation in the public discourse surrounding therapy. Once a secret shame or punchline, counseling is now increasingly accepted as a vital tool in maintaining mental health and overcoming periods of emotional adversity. Still, even as attitudes change, stigma surrounding seeking mental health care keeps far too many people from getting the treatment they need.

Even as the prevalence of mental health issues increases, up to 75 percent of Americans and Europeans don’t pursue help, according to a study published in the journal Psychological Medicine. Researchers at King’s College London stated that their findings showed “clear evidence” of the “toxic effect” of stigma, which keeps people suffering unnecessarily.

What is Mental Health Stigma?

A stigma is a negative social attitude or unfair judgment placed on a person or group based on a difference or perceived failure. Stigmas are widespread in society, relating to certain lifestyle choices, cultural practices, or health conditions.

In regard to mental health, common stigmas suggest that those dealing with mental illness are “weak” and simply need to “toughen up,” or alternatively are “crazy” or other harmful terms. These characterizations are destructive, misinformed, and untrue, and no one should feel that these pejoratives describe them and their circumstances.

Living in a society that shares such messages about seeking treatment for mental issues can cause self-stigma. This occurs when those struggling with mental illness internalize negative attitudes put forth by the media and others about their own condition. A review of studies in Psychiatry Research found that self-stigma can have a number of deleterious effects, such as:

  • worsened psychiatric symptoms
  • decreased hope
  • challenges at work and in relationships
  • lowered self-esteem
  • poorer recovery outcomes after one and two years

Overcoming The Stigma 

Most people who hold negative attitudes about treatment simply lack information about mental health. Research shows that information is the most useful weapon in combating treatment stigma. Individuals sharing their stories, as well as media campaigns, change perception of mental illness by helping people to better understand signs of struggle and sharing resources for help.

On a personal level, for those dealing with mental health issues, it’s important to remember that you are not alone. Considering that the CDC reports that over 50 percent of Americans will be diagnosed with a mental illness at some point in their life, struggling with mental health is an extremely common occurrence.

Like physical health, our mental health requires some upkeep and the pursuit of good mental health is a normal one. Defeat stigmas surrounding mental health treatment by starting with yourself, either by encouraging your loved ones to get the help they need, or by taking the first step for your own health. Counseling is a powerful tool in the journey for wellness and personal growth, and we are here to help.

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