To put in perspective, mental health-related issues and mental disorders are distinctively human problems. Already in 2001, the World Health Organisation suggested that about 25% of the people in the world are suffering from a mental or behavioural disorder at some point during their lives, and inferred that by 2020 the burden of mental health burden will be greater.
The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on mental health has cemented this hypothesis and we can safely allude that the world is indeed in a mental health crisis. However, despite these findings, people with mental health issues and people diagnosed with mental illness continue to experience stigma in their communities, families and workplaces for a condition that is multifaceted in its causality, and which nobody has volunteered for.
Stigma is defined as a label or negative view given to a person or a group of people when their characteristics or behaviours are viewed as different from or lesser to what is socially acceptable as a norm (Dudley, 2002). Often stigma is perpetuated
because of fear and lack of understanding of a specific subject matter – in this case, mental health. Stigma can take the form of social stigma – which is prejudiced attitudes others have around mental illness; self-perceived stigma – which is when
individuals who suffer from mental illnesses internalise the stigma and as a result feel shameful for having a mental condition; and institutionalised stigma – which is more systemic, involving policies of government and private organisations that
intentionally or unintentionally limit opportunities for people with mental illness. Some of the ways governments stigmatise people with mental illness is through offering lower funding for mental health-related issues or fewer mental health services in
comparison to other health care departments. These various stigmas inevitably affect a person’s overall well-being and health.
Perpetuating factors of stigma:
*Media’s display of mental illness – often the villain is a character with a mental condition.
*Harmful stereotypes of people with mental illness – for e.g., “people with mental illnesses are aggressive or violent”
*Use of derogative language to describe people or their behaviour – for instance, “she’s crazy, a nut case” etc.
*Treating mental health issues as if it’s something people can overcome if they just “try harder” or can “snap out of it”.
Consequences of mental health stigma:
*Suffering from negative thoughts – situation is permanent
*Increased feelings of shame and self-doubt
*Reluctance in help-seeking behaviour
*Reduced likelihood of staying on treatment
*Increased psychiatric symptoms
*Avoidance and social isolation
*Poor quality of life, disability and increased socioeconomic burden
*Harassment, physical violence and bullying
*Difficulties with social relationships
*Lack of understanding among friends, family and employers.
*Exclusion from job opportunities and dismissal for help-seeking behaviour that results at times in absenteeism
*Trouble finding housing
*Exclusion from social activities
*Health insurance that doesn’t adequately cover mental illness treatment.
We can collectively combat stigma through continuous awareness-raising on mental health, remembering that there are many people with mental illness; seeking support from various sources available and to speak up and educate those around us about mental illness. No one is immune from mental health challenges, let us be kind towards each other.