Mental Health America of Porter County is acknowledging Mental Health Awareness this month by addressing the issue of stigma. Growing up we are taught the facetious phrase, “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” However, I disagree with this idea. Some of the things that stick with and affect individuals the most are the hurtful words rendered by family members, friends and even strangers. Consequently, it’s important that the community take time to see how their words can have a major impact on self-esteem and quality of life of individuals with mental illness.
How many times have you seen the media portray individuals with mental illness as dangerous? Or how many times have you referred to individuals with severe mental illnesses as “crazy people?” Being honest with ourselves we have all seen it and I am sure we have all done it. Nevertheless this does not make the previous displays of public stigma acceptable. Public stigma can be defined as negative public views that disgrace or discredit individuals leading them to be viewed differently than others. Research has shown that internalization of such public stigmas tends to lead to low self-esteem and low quality of life in individuals with mental illness. In simpler terms a person with severe mental illness becomes aware of public stigmas; they then agree with them and adopt the stigmatizing attitudes. As a result, their self-esteem is lowered and they feel unworthy and question their ability to achieve their personal goals. Lastly, it should be noted that low self-esteem leads to isolation which is not good for anyone.
So what can you do to stop internalization of stigma? First off watch what you say. It’s easy to follow the talk of society, but remember the words you say can be detrimental to others. Likewise be more than just tolerant be accepting- there is a difference between the two. For instance a group of unanimously surveyed students at a local university where asked their opinions on mental illness when asked if they thought people with mental illness were dangerous the reply was a resounding no. Yet, when asked about willingness to date a person with a mental illness or whether or not they thought people with mental illnesses should hold authoritative positions a majority of people responded negatively to these ideas. Obviously there is a disconnect somewhere. Lastly, health care professionals and loved ones of people with mental illnesses are encouraged to construct a less stigmatizing narration of mental illnesses. By replacing stigmatizing myths with facts they can help increase self-esteem and overall quality of life.
Mental Health America of Porter County is your community resource for advocacy, education, support and resource services. For more information about our services please contact Christine Pirlot, Program Director at 462-6267 or firstname.lastname@example.org.