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The Importance of Overcoming Mental Health Stigma in Society

Updated: Aug 13, 2023

May 2023 is Mental Health Awareness Month, and this is a time to educate ourselves about mental health issues that commonly occur in society. By learning more about mental health, we can help to end stigma that still surrounds mental health issues in our society.

This year, NAMI is celebrating Mental Health Awareness Month with the More Than Enough campaign!

Often, those of us with a mental illness can be made to feel like we are not enough the way we are. We feel like we are less worthy than others in society. We feel different and outcast. That is why this year's theme is so important. Even with a mental health condition, you are enough and you are worthy just the way you are.

Discrimination and Stigma in Society

Even in 2023 there is still a lot of misinformation about mental health in the media and the way that people think about mental health. People with mental illness are portrayed as crazy, dangerous, or unable to function on their own. None of these things are true for the vast majority of those with mental illness.

Incorrect stereotypes about people with mental illness can lead to stigma and discrimination against them. Many people with mental illness have experienced discrimination or even harassment because of their conditions. This may happen at work, school, home or in their social lives. They may feel like they are left out and on the fringe of society. This is both harmful and unfair.

According to Health Direct,

Stigma arises from a lack of understanding of mental illness (ignorance and misinformation), and also because some people have negative attitudes or beliefs towards it (prejudice). This can lead to discrimination against people with mental illness.

When people are stigmatized and discriminated against, this can further harm their mental health, as they are being treated badly by others. People with mental illness may be made fun of, bullied, or fired from a job because of their symptoms. This can cause symptoms to worsen because the person feels isolated and alone in what they are going through.

According to the Mental Health Foundation,

We know that people with mental health problems are among the least likely of any group with a long-term health condition or disability to:
find work
be in a steady, long-term relationship
live in decent housing
be socially included in mainstream society
Stigma and discrimination can also make someone’s mental health problems worse and delay or stop them from getting help. Social isolation, poor housing, unemployment and poverty are all linked to mental ill health. So stigma and discrimination can trap people in a cycle of illness.

With all these issues arising from stigma and discrimination because of mental health, it is important to do all we can to help anyone with mental illness, instead of treating them badly because of it. Having empathy and kindness really mean the world to those of us suffering with a mental illness.

If you have a mental illness

It is important to remember that social stigma and even discrimination don't define who you are as a person. You are enough just the way you are. Having positive self-talk and a strong support system can help to dispel the negative messages that you get from society and the media.

According to Health Direct, here are some ways to cope with the stigma that you may face:

  • Don't avoid getting treatment

  • Don't believe that you are your illness

  • Don't take it personally

  • Use facts

  • Defend negative stereotypes and misinformation

  • Tell your story (if you want)

  • Join a support group

By taking some of these steps, and consulting with your mental health professional regularly, you can help to reduce the effects of mental health stigma in your life. Having a support system such as family and friends, or joining a support group can also help you to feel a sense of community and to better cope with negative opinions of others.

If you have been discriminated against at work or school because of your mental health issues, you may have legal recourse against what happened to you. Schools and workplaces have anti-discrimination policies that are meant to protect you from being discriminated against. It is important to educate yourself about these policies.

When you face discrimination, you can talk to your Human Resources office about what has happened and file a formal complaint of discrimination. If that isn't helpful, you can file a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within the United States. You may also want to consult with legal representation.

According to the EEOC,

If you believe that you have been discriminated against at work because of your race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy, gender identity, and sexual orientation), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information, you can file a Charge of Discrimination. A charge of discrimination is a signed statement asserting that an employer, union or labor organization engaged in employment discrimination. It requests EEOC to take remedial action.

You may also be able to file a discrimination claim with your state or local government. Once you have done this, you may be able to file a lawsuit as well. It is best to consult with a lawyer if you decide to do this, as they will best be able to advise you of your legal rights in a discrimination case.

If you are an ally

If you are an ally of the mental health community, you can show your support as well. You can speak up in many ways and help to end the stigma and discrimination that many people with mental illness face. By speaking up, you are making a difference in the lives of many people.

When you hear someone say something insensitive or inaccurate about mental health, you can speak up to correct them, and provide information about mental health. This allows you to be an ally and to educate those around you with facts about mental health.

Some of the most effective ways you can be a mental health ally are to talk one on one with colleagues who are struggling, use supportive language, educate yourself and colleagues about mental health, encourage group engagement, and create policies that help employees who need it.

When you speak up about mental health issues, or speak up for someone you know who has a mental illness, you are making an impact on their lives. You are showing that not everyone in society is ignorant about mental health, or insensitive to those who have mental health issues. It makes those with a mental illness feel valued and included.

Mental illness doesn't define a person or their worth. By putting forth this information, and making those with mental illness feel like they are enough the way they are, you can help them to avoid the negative effects of stigma and discrimination. Every time you stand up for mental health, you are also helping society to grow, and to become more accepting.

The National Alliance On Mental Illness provides additional ways to get involved in the More Than Enough Campaign, and templates and posts that you can share on social media throughout the month to help raise awareness. By starting a positive conversation about mental health, you are helping to positively impact the lives of many people.

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