Webster’s Dictionary defines stigma as, “a mark of shame or discredit”.  Many people who have a emotional and mental health struggles stigmatize themselves or are stigmatized by others. Stigma may be obvious, someone making a negative remark about your mental illness or treatment. It can also be hard to notice, someone assuming you could be unstable, violent, or dangerous because you have a mental health challenges. 

Some individuals view themselves as weak if they are not able to control their mental health challenges on their own. Just as there are some physical health circumstances that cannot be controlled without the assistance of a medical professional, there are certain mental health challenges that require the support and knowledge of a mental health professional.

Lack of understanding and support by family, friends, colleagues or others you know can lead to: 1. Discrimination at work or school 2. Bullying, physical violence, or harassment 3. The belief that you will never be able to overcome certain challenges or that you can’t improve your situation.

Here are some ways you can deal with stigma:

1. Take the most courageous step of all —> Get the help you need. Getting the support of a mental health professional can be difficult.  Don’t let the fear of being “labeled” stop you from seeking help. Treatment can provide relief by identifying what’s wrong and developing a plan to reduce or eliminate symptoms that interfere with your work and personal life.

If your child has an emotional or mental health challenge that affects their education, find out what plans and programs might help. Discrimination against students because of a mental health condition is against the law, and educators at primary, secondary and college levels are required to accommodate students as best they can. Talk to teachers, professors or administrators about the best approach and available resources. If a teacher doesn’t know about a student’s disability, it can lead to barriers with learning, poor grades, and problems with peers and authority.

 2. Don’t let stigma create self-doubt, shame, and/or guilt. Stigma doesn’t just come from others. You may have the mistaken belief that your condition is a sign of personal weakness, or that you should be able to control it without help. Seeking psychological counseling, educating yourself about your condition and connecting with others with mental illness can help you gain self-esteem and overcome destructive self-judgment.

 3. Don’t isolate yourself. This is definitely not the time to have an abundance of pride. Have the courage to confide in positive people who will support you and encourage your efforts. 

 4. Know that you ARE NOT a mental illness. If you had a stomach ache, you wouldn’t say “I am a stomach ache”.  If you struggle with cancer, you don’t say, “I am cancer”. What you do is recognize that you are an individual who happens to be struggling with a stomach ache or cancer. Therefore you say. “I have a stomach ache” or “I have cancer” but you know the stomach ache or the cancer is not all that you have to offer the world.  So if you struggle with depression say “I have clinical depression” instead of “I am depressed”. Instead of saying, “I am schizophrenic” say “I struggle with schizophrenia”.

The words you use to speak about yourself have unbelievable power.

 5. Join a support group. Some local and national groups, such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) offer local programs and Internet resources that help reduce stigma by educating people with mental illness, their family members and the general public.  

6. Don’t let stigma continue. When you hear family, friends, or collegues playing into stereotypes regarding mental health, take a stand!  Some stereotypes of mental health come from media outlets which portray mental illness and mental health professionals in ways that promote profit more than truth.

A few stigmas about people who have mental and emotional challenges are:

  1. Are violent and uncontrollable   
  2. Are not as intelligent as the average person
  3. Are depressed helpless women
  4. Those without family or friends
  5. Homeless

 A few stigmas about mental health professionals are:

  1. Unable to maintain professional boundaries
  2. Controlling
  3. Easily tricked and manipulated
  4. Uncaring
  5. Having ulterior motives for helping