For a long time, the importance of mental health has been minimized and a stigma about people who seek counseling has been created. A stigma includes negative attitudes against a person based on a characteristic that distinguishes them from others, such as a disability, health issue, or a mental health need. In recent years, due to many factors that are ongoing within the world, there has been an increase in the number of people who have experienced a decline in their mental health. This decline has led to an increased need for mental health treatment for a large number of people. Professionals involved in the mental health field have been and continue to work toward decreasing the mental health stigma, however, everyone can participate in helping to work toward this goal.
To work on changing something, it is beneficial to understand what reinforces the current belief. One thing that fuels the mental health stigma is holding harmful stereotypes about people who have mental health needs. Another way we reinforce this belief system is by saying things like “she’s nuts” or “he’s crazy.”
So, how does holding these beliefs and reinforcing these ideas affect anything? Mental health stigma impacts people by creating a reluctance to seek help when help is needed. This leads to people having a further decline in their psychological well-being and potentially poor quality of life. This stigma can also lead to people feeling misunderstood by their family and friends creating feelings of rejection and isolation from others. People with mental health needs who are negatively impacted by this stigma can feel like, ultimately, something is wrong with them creating a mindset of shame and self-doubt. Another negative impact of this stigma is people being bullied or harassed for something they are struggling with. Any of these results hinder, not only potential positive life changes through seeking mental health treatment, but also a society in which we minimize and even make fun of others who are genuinely struggling.
Each and every person can play a role in reducing the mental health stigma in any number of ways. We can have open conversations about mental health and try to build up those who are having a difficult time rather than tearing them down. We can educate ourselves about others’ experiences with mental health needs and by sharing facts about mental health. Also, words are powerful, so being conscious of what we say and how we say it matters. Lastly, we can choose to try to empower those with mental health needs rather than shame them.
Sometimes it takes a lived experience to gain an understanding about changes that need to be made. With everything that is going on around us many people are seeing mental health needs hit closer to home than they have in the past. This is starting to create a larger value in mental health and the importance of addressing these needs as we would physical health needs. Let’s be part of the positive momentum occurring in order to get to a world where mental health isn’t a hindrance, but rather a solvable situation when the right tools and support is available.