Stigmatize Me: People Living with Mental Illness
Would you purposefully block someone else’s recovery? Would you put someone down for something they have no control over? People with mental illness face prejudice and discrimination in society everyday due to a lack of education about the issue. Mental health and illness education will help decrease mental illness stigma and discrimination.
In recent years, more awareness has been brought to mental illness and mental health in general through media, awareness weeks, and workshops, but many damaging stigmas still remain. I face stigma because of my mental illnesses, and thousands of others do as well. Maybe you know someone with one, you probably do. Good news, based on years of research, there is evidence that education and interaction with people with mental illness can reduce stigma and discrimination. Providing schools, workspaces, and other places with education about mental health and illness can help reduce discrimination and stigma of people living with mental illness. Illic et. al (2013) found that by reducing the stigma, we can improve the self-esteem of people with mental illness and improve their overall quality of life.
With or without living with a mental illness, the message can easily be understood. People with mental illnesses are stigmatized in different ways; two in particular are covert and overt discrimination. Covert is not always obvious, but over discrimination is. Think of it as thoughts and actions, but can be just as damaging. But, people can simply go online to Google and search ‘mental illness stigma’ and come up with thousands of links explaining the myth in the stigmas. How does this article differ though? I’m inviting you to challenge the stigmas and break through them!
Think about media and mental illness. Change internal attitudes as well as internal attitudes. Violence and mental illness seems to come up time and time again. But where is the research to support that? In reality, mentally ill people aren’t violent or dangerous. Think about TV shows. TV builds viewers on highly stereotyped behaviors of mentally ill people. Do you take those and apply them to real everyday people? Avoiding this issue is a problem, but again, who can blame people with mental illness being scared to share their feelings when all the talk is about mental illness and crimes and other negative portrayals on TV? Mental illness is real. Portrayal is not always accurate.
Do you still not think stigma needs to change, or that it’s ‘correct’? I have been before the naïve person who thought a stigma was true, but I learned the fact and left the myth. Personally, a lot of the time I don’t share my own struggles with mental illness for fear of the stigma. For the people who I do share my struggles with, I find the more they get to know me, the less I worry about them stigmatizing my behavior. The more connections with others with mental illness, the more I have learned. This is a strong point for education to happen, whether it is online, with a friend, or beyond.
So why, after all this time, has mental illness been stigmatized despite all of the damage it produces? Perhaps this is a sign we need to start earlier in educating people. School programs can include basic mental health education. People can advocate for these programs by writing or speaking out. In a workplace, there can be a yearly conference that workers attend. We also still need more research on how it continues and how to prevent it. Education and research take a long time, but many people with mental illness can gain back some confidence and go forward into recovery.
Of course, this is one study, and I am one person, but there are more studies and even more people. An idea to stop stigma might work for a while but then something better may come along. There are endless possibilities to approach this problem. Start a talk at work. Talk to a friend about their views. Do some introspection of yourself. Don’t just sit here and read this article and be done. This is just the start of another personal mission that you can take part in. Educate others and yourself. Don’t impair recovery, empower recovery!

I am Jenny Baumann, a Junior college student at Roosevelt University studying psychology. I have struggled with mental illness as well as stigma associated with it. I am glad to share my story and offer ways to help change the stigma associated with mental illness!

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