A mental health stigma is no laughing matter. Mental health issues have been misunderstood for thousands of years. When someone has a mental illness, they tend to receive a label: they are a schizophrenic, that person is crazy, she is bipolar. In the dark ages, a person with a mental retardation or handicap would usually be called a simpleton. It was perceived that they lacked intelligence.
People with mental illnesses are too often judged based upon their illness and not on their other character traits. With such a stigma attached to mental illness, it is no wonder that many people delay seeking help. It is embarrassing to admit when something may not be right and it’s hard to ask for help. Most people do not want to face the concept that they cannot “carry the burden” alone.
It is for these reasons, and more, that many people do not want to address a mental health problems. Fear, shame, and pride may cause a person not to seek any kind of treatment. The reality is that it isn’t their fault. There is nothing they did wrong.
Mental Health Stigma – A true story
I recently heard a story where a gentleman was opening a mental health clinic. He named the clinic something along the lines of “Community Mental Health Treatment Center.” To his surprise, almost no one showed up. The clinic was struggling financially. It almost had to close. The gentleman who opened the clinic couldn’t figure out what was wrong. He had a perfect location, good staff, and a premier facility.
One day, as he was meeting with a colleague, they suggest that he change the name.
“What’s wrong with it?” he inquired.
The friend replied, “people don’t want to feel they need mental health treatment. They are ashamed that there is something wrong with them. They probably are afraid to be seen going in for treatment.”
The gentleman thought about this idea and changed the name. I won’t reveal the name of the new facility. To his shock, people started coming in. His client base grew exponentially. The clinic became very successful.
Mental Health Stigma – A societal issue
This is a poignant lesson that goes to show how society really views mental illness. When someone has depression, how often have we heard it described as “they need to just move on with their life and get out.” Their house can often be in total disarray since they cannot muster the energy to clean it. Yet instead of viewing them as a sick person who needs some severe treatment, it is often said they are lazy.
This makes it especially hard to get treatment. I would even say it becomes more of a challenge if a person develops a mental health issue later in life. After all, not all psychiatric disorders manifest themselves n childhood. Some could take 10-20 years to take root. Others could be brought on by sudden trauma. A person who suddenly was “normal,” or at least who wasn’t suffering from a mental health problem, now has to face a new issue in their life. No one wants to admit they have problems. The common mental health stigma that many people feel is evidence of this.
“Fear, shame, and pride may cause a person not to seek any kind of treatment.”
Perhaps this attitude is much more prominent in America, more so than other nations. I cannot say. I do know this: America’s hate to face the idea of failure. We hate to lose. It is the reason we win so many gold medals. It is the reason we achieve so much worldly success. Our nation is very competitive. We love success.
Admitting a mental health crisis doesn’t feel like success. It makes us cringe. It makes us feel weak. The concept that we cannot just do things on our own and overcome a challenge churns our stomachs. This kind of attitude must be conquered if we are to make more meaningful strides in treatment of psychiatric problems. After all, there is a lot that we cannot do on our own. Many people are unable to just move on with their lives. In truth, many people with mental illnesses are very intelligent, capable people. They aren’t any better or worse than anyone else.