How Mental Health Stigma Affects Your Life Mental illness itself is challenging enough. People suffering from mental health problems struggle with symptoms and their consequences every day. On top of that, they are often challenged by the stereotypes and prejudices that surround mental health problems. Stigma that results from misconceptions about mental health disorders weakens a person’s self-esteem and takes away the life opportunities we all deserve: positive interpersonal relationships, good education, successful careers, suitable health care, a safe home. Until recently, mental health stigma didn’t catch much of the researches’ attention. It is only during recent decades that social psychologists and sociologists have begun studying stigma in mental illness. How does the stigma affect your everyday life? Stigma can be profoundly hurting. The stereotypes and prejudices caused by mental illness stigma can prevent a person from social interactions and cause a deep isolation. Many people withdraw from family members, friends, and community and choose to suffer in silence when they feel stigmatized about their mental health problems. Furthermore, mental health stigma often stops other people from being supportive and offering help to those in need. Also, stigma can be the main reason why people choose to remain quiet about their mental health problems and refuse to seek and receive the much-needed professional help. In addition, mental illness stigma often prevents people from pursuing education or getting the jobs they are qualified to do. Finally, it inhibits those suffering from mental illness from playing an active role and contributing to their community. How does the stigma make you feel? Stigma is a mark of disgrace that isolates one person apart from other people. The stigma in mental illness is one of the most important challenges the world faces today. Our society usually labels people suffering from mental health problems based on negative stereotypes. Negative stereotypes then generate prejudices, which in line usually leads to discrimination and negative actions towards people with mental health issues within their social circles, at school or within the workplace. Three out of four people with mental health problems say they have experienced stigma. They commonly report the experiences and feelings of shame, distress, hopelessness, loneliness, isolation, and guilt. Furthermore, people who experience mental illness stigma report unwillingness to seek and accept help. They also confirm being discriminated in housing, services or employment. In addition, the families of people with mental illness are also affected by stigma, which leads to hiding mental illness from others and a lack of support. Social Stigma and Self-Stigma Studies indicate that most people in Western European countries and the U.S. generally have stigmatizing attitudes about mental illness. Social or public stigma towards mental illness refers to attitudes and conceptions that cause people to avoid, reject or fear those with mental illness or their family members. The most common social stigma about mental health includes assumptions that people with mental health conditions are dangerous, aggressive, and violent. On the other hand, self-stigma happens when a person internalizes society’s misconceptions about mental health. By adopting negative conceptions, a person may experience feelings of blame, shame, hopelessness and helplessness. This, in turn, may keep them from seeking social support or treatment for their mental health condition. Mental Health Issues and Gender Recent research shows that men who experience anxiety and depression often remain unidentified, undiagnosed, and untreated. The clinical experience suggests that male’s experience of depression has not been as well understood as women’s experience of this mental health condition. It looks as if men are more likely to keep their feelings in for a long time without acting upon their symptoms. Research shows that men generally are less ready than women to seek out therapy for mental health problems. Not only that. It appears that men are also unwilling to seek support from family members and close friends while trying to cope with mental health illness. The main reason for this lies in masculinity rules and stigma that surrounds mental health problems. The masculinity norms may encourage men not to share their emotions and not to seek professional help. Socialization in most developed countries promotes masculinity. From an early age, men are encouraged to be strong, easy-going, independent, and assertive. The gap between this masculine ideal and the reality often leads to depression, anxiety, substance abuse, violence, and suicide. In Western cultures, men generally don’t feel comfortable discussing their emotions. Masculinity norms encourage men to “mask” their mental illness, to keep it inside, and go without seeking help. Studies show that a large number of men suffer from complications closely related to depression, like aggression, alcohol and substance abuse. Correspondingly, the suicide rates in males continue to grow alarmingly. How to Challenge Stigma? It is not the mental illness that stigmatizes. It’s people. Stigma about mental health is a huge obstacle to treatment, recovery, and socialization for people suffering from mental illness. It is, therefore, vital to challenge mental health stigma and replace the misconceptions that lead to stereotypes, prejudices, and discrimination with factual information and positive attitudes. This can be done through: Education In-person interactions with people with mental illness and Social marketing campaigns It is believed that these approaches bring the greatest improvements in public attitudes toward mental illness. However, as members of society, we all have a responsibility in creating a mentally healthy community where we support social inclusion and reduce stigma and discrimination. We can do this through: Learning and sharing facts about mental health Taking openly about personal mental health issues Acknowledging personal experiences of mental illness Not labeling people by their illness but treating them with respect Offering support Avoiding any form of discrimination Mental health illness should not remain concealed. The more a person, family, community, and society hide mental health problems, the more individuals and general population believe that mental illness is something to be ashamed of, something that needs to remain hidden and masked. Whether the individual or organized, anti-stigma actions can increase access to mental health resources, boost social network support, and encourage full inclusion in society. Our personal commitment can make a significant difference. Therefore, always keep in mind that your personal commitment to challenge mental illness stigma counts.