It is estimated that more than half of the people with mental illness do not receive adequate help for their disorders. Because of the fear of being called ‘’crazy’’ (Vattan, Bhranthan) many tend to avoid or delay seeking treatment. Concerns about being treated differently arise from stigma, prejudice and discrimination against people with mental illness which is rampant in our society.
Stigmatizing attitudes often result from a lack of awareness or fear. It is quite common that people with mental illnesses are portrayed as negative characters in films and 0print media. They are often represented as rebels, murderers or as those unable to take care of themselves. This is believed to be a major cause of misconceptions about mental illness that lead to stigma and corresponding discriminatory behaviour.
While stigmatizing attitudes are not solely concerned with mental illness, the general public seem to be more likely to discriminate against individuals with mental illness than those with physical illness or disabilities. Such stigmatizing behaviour directly affects not only individuals with mental illness but also their loved ones and their friends, especially family members. Considering its negative effects on help seeking for treatment and support, the stigma associated with mental illness is a major public health issue.
Let’s understand it further with an example:
Ramu was diagnosed with schizophrenia while doing his graduation. Recollecting the memory of those days, he says: “I was happy and enjoying my college life. Everything turned upside down since I got symptomatic. My friends began to tell me I’m crazy. They called me ‘psycho’. I could sense the indifference they were developing towards me just because I was mentally ill. Gradually, I stopped my studies. Then my neighbours and relatives started asking why aren’t you studying? What is wrong with you? No one was there to help me and I started feeling ashamed of my mental health condition. I started feeling like I am not worthy of anything.’’
This is how stigmatizing attitudes affect a person with mental illness. Here we see the stigma from the public as well as the stigma within the person.
Researchers identify different types of stigmas such as public stigma, self-stigma and institutional stigma.
Public stigma is the general public perception of mental illness. Public stigma occurs when people share a prejudiced view of mental health issues. It mainly stems from the misconceptions like people with mental illness are violent, incompetent, to blame for their disorder, unpredictable etc. As a result, employers may not hire them, landlords may not rent to them or the health care system may offer a lower standard of care for them.
Self-stigma refers to the set of negative beliefs, including internalized shame that people with mental illness have about their condition. These thoughts may result in lowered self-worth, social withdrawal, demoralization, and lower quality of life.
Institutional stigma is more systemic, involving policies of the government and private organizations that intentionally or unintentionally restrict opportunities for people with mental illness. Stereotypes may inform legislation and institutions’ policies and practices. There is often less funding available for mental health research or fewer mental health services relative to other health care.
Stigma may not always be direct or expressed in overt prejudice. It can be present in the words people use to describe mental illness or people living with mental illness. This can involve unfair, disrespectful and offensive language, which can be distressing for the people affected. This can make them feel abandoned which may worsen their symptoms and make it hard to recover.
Some of the harmful effects of stigma include:
Reluctance to seek help or treatment
Lack of understanding by family, friends, co-workers or others
Reduced opportunities for employment, education and other social activities
Discrimination and isolation at work
Difficulty to find housing
Bullying, violence and harassment
Lack of appropriate mental health insurances
Worsening of symptoms
Limited knowledge of professional help.
Mental health stigma in the workplace
Mental health stigma in the workplace may lead to discrimination and harassment. This can affect people’s attitudes and beliefs towards those struggling with their mental distress. This may result in preventing those struggling with their mental health from feeling safe to disclose and seek support from their employer and others around them. An open workplace, where workers feel safe is beneficial. The persons in positions of authority can do the following to reduce mental health stigma in the workplace.
Understand more about mental health
Learn how best to react to people with mental health issues
Develop mutual trust, friendship and affinity with employees
Have appropriate mental health policy for the organization
Commitment to equal opportunity and privacy
Educate employees around mental health
Try to have open discussions about mental health in the workplace