Before I move forward with this blog, it would be worthwhile to define what exactly stigma is.
Stigma literally means a mark of shame or discredit. In a wider sense, it means prejudice and discrimination towards a certain action or characteristic. There is a stigma attached towards obtaining welfare benefits, and there is the stigma I will be focusing on in this blog: the stigma towards mental illness.
Stigma in the mental health world can be manifested as:
Shame or humiliation about carrying mental illness, or knowing someone with one
Disbelief in or denial of mental illness;
False stereotypes, harsh judgment, even fear of mentally ill individuals;
Discouragement towards seeking professional help;
Discrimination in the employment process;
Mislabeling as crazy, psycho, and unfit to be in society.
The list goes on. Congressman Patrick J. Kennedy explains that stigma is anything that prevents someone from getting care – “attitudinal barriers” towards seeking help . Moreover, there is not only stigma in society towards mentally ill people, but also self-stigma. People with mental illness oftentimes look down upon themselves because of their illness. For instance, I stigmatized myself when I called myself a psycho and weak for not successfully living with my illness.
I am no social psychologist, so if you would like a more technical explanation of stigma, I recommend this article: http://webcast.und.edu/health-wellness/healthy-und/mental-health-stigma-fawn.pdf.
I believe that stigma towards mental illness is not talked about as frequently as it should be (admittedly, times are a-changin’, due to unfortunate tragedies such as in Newton, CT, but fortunate things like Silver Linings Playbook). It’s so important because as stigma is reduced, more people will be willing to get help for themselves or their loved ones. We won’t have to live in shame or fear. More of us can lead healthy, productive lives.
Beyond just the emotional argument, there are very, very practical reasons why stigma needs to be eliminated and mental illness must be treated in the U.S.:
It’s common. One in four adults in the U.S. are affected by mental illness in a given year, yet only 60% get the help they need .
It’s crippling. Four of the ten leading causes of disability are mental disorders .
It’s life-threatening. There are over 38,000 suicides every year, and 90% of the people who commit suicide have a diagnosable mental illness. And yes, I will add a nod to the couple of percentage points of increased violent behavior in untreated mentally ill people. 5-7% people with severe problems will harm others in a given year, compared to 2-3% general population [4, 5].
It’s an economic burden. Serious mental illness costs $193.2 billion in lost earnings per year due to loss of productivity .
It’s costly indirectly as well as directly. Mentally ill people suffer a higher rate of unemployment, alienation, and homelessness. There are also costs from social care, education, housing, criminal justice and social security systems .
It’s the right thing to do! We can’t let so many people suffer unnecessarily. (I refuse to believe this is an emotional argument.)
So that is what this blog is dedicated to: the elimination of stigma. I hope you’ll join me.