Stigma and Mental Health

According to the Government of Western Australia Mental Health Commission, three fourths of those with mental illness have suffered from stigma. When a group has stigma attached to it, that means society thinks of them as abnormal or negative. In the case of mental illness, stigma causes stereotyping, misunderstandings, discrimination, and sometimes even hatred toward those with an illness. Borderline in particular has a lot of stigma attached to it, because people with Borderline are harder to understand and get along with than the general population.

How to Help Stop Stigma

Learn! The best way to help stop stigma is to learn the truth about mental illnesses so you have a better understanding. Don’t discriminate against someone with a disease, and if others exhibit prejudice, try to gently correct them. If you know friends or family members with mental illnesses, be sure to support them, because they may not be getting support from society. It’s best if you can learn from these people firsthand about how to treat them. It’s also a good idea to be open to sharing your own experiences to find out what feelings you might have in common with those who are stigmatized.

What Not to Say

Along with not discriminating, learning the facts, sharing the facts, and getting to know those with mental illness, there are a few things I would advise you about. There are certain things to avoid. Some should be obvious. It should be obvious that, until you know how a person feels, you should avoid any jokes or teasing about a mental health problem. Here are a few other tips for communicating with or about people with mental illness.

  1. Don’t make it sound like the person is at fault for their illness. Even if this were true, it would not help your relations to say things like that. Likely, your friend or family member already suffers guilt for having a disease, and being reminded of this is not helpful for anybody.
  2. Don’t make assumptions¬†about the “cause” of a person’s illness. A common myth is that psychological disorders are entirely genetic. On the other hand, it’s also a common myth that a single life event or trauma must have caused the illness, such as a car crash or a shooting. In reality, most mental illnesses come from a combination of environmental and biological factors. Long story short: it’s not simple.
  3. Don’t imply that the person is wrong for seeking help for their illness. Some people tell those with illnesses that they are just being labeled, that psychotherapy is unhelpful, that medications are a conspiracy, or that whatever problems they are having must be in their diet or should just be treated by a primary care doctor. Some of those things may be true for some people or in some cases, but the process of mental health treatment is different for everybody.