For centuries, individuals with mental health conditions have been misunderstood and treated poorly. Research and improved knowledge have gradually led to more compassionate treatments over the last several decades. These changes have caused more individuals to ask—why is there a stigma on mental health?
Read some revealing statistics about mental health stigma for a better grasp on its impact, possible causes, and examples of mental health stigma.
Mental health conditions are often portrayed as an exception, making them appear to be unusual and uncommon. Understanding their true prevalence can therefore challenge this viewpoint, and expose the impact of stigmatizing beliefs.
Here are some statistics on mental health and its stigmatization:
Mental health stigma can develop when inaccurate information, fear, and assumptions come together. Stigma can be broken down but understanding how these elements contribute to adverse outcomes is the first step.
Media portrayals of mental health and substance use disorders are often misconstrued and sensationalized. Whether from a news report or a scene in a movie, inaccurate characterizations attract attention from the public. Unfortunately, this negative attention perpetuates harmful stereotypes and makes the fight against stigma a challenge.
Individuals tend to fear what they do not understand, and this attitude has kept many from addressing mental health issues with compassion. Individuals label others based on stereotypes and inaccurate knowledge about mental health conditions.
One common assumption is that individuals are in control of their condition and that laziness or a weak character holds them back from getting better. Current social norms encourage labeling and creating more social distance rather than trying to understand and help.
Mental health stigma is a leading factor of poor mental health outcomes because individuals hide their conditions. Feelings of shame lead to avoidance of treatment or inadequate care. Common mental health stigmas include misinformed beliefs about individuals and the disorders they cope with, fueling attitudes that lead to discrimination, marginalization, and lack of social acceptance.
Public stigma is the negative attitude others have about mental health issues, including many stereotypes that may promote discrimination. Social gender norms play a part, especially for males. Mental health stigma often keeps men and boys from sharing their emotions for fear of looking weak. Individuals may also use derogatory language, saying someone is crazy, or could just snap out of it. At times, the media depicts individuals with mental health conditions as violent or dangerous.
Individuals with mental health conditions may feel shameful or like an outcast. Self-stigma is the internalization of negative social stereotypes. An individual may believe they are dangerous, lazy, or not trying to get better.
Stigma may also be directed toward family members of an individual with mental health issues. They may be blamed for their relative’s condition or socially shunned, suggesting that something is wrong with them as a family. These negative attitudes may lead family members to withdraw socially.
Many individuals fear the consequences of revealing mental health issues at their workplace, often worrying about job security and being treated differently. They are also more likely to punish or fire individuals when symptoms interfere with job performance than offer support and help.
Professional stigma refers to the stigmatizing attitudes mental healthcare providers may hold towards individuals they treat. Providers may also feel stigmatized by colleagues or the public because of their role in mental healthcare. As individuals needing treatment can find themselves in vulnerable conditions, stigma can directly impact the care they are able to ask for and insist on receiving.
Stigma has long been a barrier between individuals with mental health needs and supportive care, at times due to fear that asking for help may lead to social rejection. Overcoming stigma is an ongoing challenge, while improved awareness about stigma and its harmful outcomes can be the key to social and personal progress.