One of the major challenges facing mental health is stigma. Living with psychosocial disabilities’, stigma has made an impact on the way I live my day-to-day life. In 2015, my psychiatrist diagnosed me with depression, anxiety and severe ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder). Today I want to delve into matters stigma and mental health. In my recovery journey, I have faced stigma and that has contributed largely to how I address mental health issues.
Stigma is mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person. The roots of stigma are very deep and bring about shame, dishonor, disgrace, and humiliation. In my experience as person living with mental health issues, stigma is something that is learned and to challenge it we have to unlearn it. To combat stigma one needs to understand stigma as a process. Stigma doesn’t just happen; the building blocks of stigma begin with stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination.
Stereotypes are ideas that are widely held by people about a group of people – (Overton & Medina, 2008). They are collective notions used to categorize a group of people. Stereotypes according to World Health Organisation refers to a widely held, fixed, oversimplified and often wrong perception or idea about a particular person or group of people. In my experience, stereotypes do not take into account the individuality of a person and the diversity with a group. On 7th June 2018, a head of department in my current job said that they did not want a person who had psychiatric conditions working under them. The person in question was I; this was not about my lack of competence or skills. It was merely because I had been in treatment for addiction, depression, anxiety and severe ADHD. This is a classic example of stereotyping that comes with having psychosocial disabilities. Stereotypes become basis and justification for prejudice.
Sanctioning negative stereotypes generates prejudice. Prejudice is a result of cognitive and affective responses to stereotypes – (Overton & Medina, 2008). Prejudice turns the negative ideas embedded in stereotypes into attitudes that justify treating a group of people unfairly and badly. Hate or fear targeted towards people living with mental health conditions is an example of prejudice. I have had the fortunate or rather unfortunate experience of some people being afraid that I will at one point become violent because of my mental health conditions. Some have actually gone to the extent of calling me and asking the same. Prejudice then leads to discrimination.
Discrimination is behavioral response to emotions and beliefs generated by prejudice and negative stereotypes – (Overton & Medina, 2008). Discrimination is the day-to-day actions that happen to exclude, undermine, and sometimes harm people with mental health conditions. Belief systems that are deeply ingrained and structurally reinforced by societal attitudes of ignorance and fear continue to propel discrimination against people with mental health challenges.
I have faced stigma at various stages of my life since my diagnosis. When you experience stigma because of your mental health condition, it hurts and more often than not, you always ask yourself why it has to be you. Stigma has not only hurt me but also brought out the mental health advocate in me. Stigma always leaves a deep pain that really never goes away; overtime you learn how to deal with it but the scars are always with you to act as reminder that stigma attached to mental illness is real. One way to challenge stigma is being vocal. Stigma abhors spaces that challenge its existence. Kindly be someone’s safe space today. Talking about mental health and illness should openly be without fear, shame, or guilt. Let us all have raw and candid conversations about mental health and illness.
Stigma is wide topic and it cannot be exhausted in one article. I will be doing more on this topic.
My parting shot today is: When I keep quiet stigma wins and I can’t let that happen.
Catch you on the next one.