Mental health stigma discourages many people from seeking help, despite all the efforts to educate the public about the advances in research. Every year it is estimated that 25% of Americans suffer from some form of mental health disorder. However, only about 30% of adults and 50% of children who have a diagnosable psychological disorder receive any treatment. When people have a full understanding of mental illness and reach out to encourage others to become informed as well, in some small way this helps diminish the stigma.

What is meant by mental health stigma?

The word “stigma” describes the fear, shame and discrimination that people often suffer when they have a psychological disorder. This results from the stereotypes associated with mental illness. The stigma attached to people with a mental disorder affects them psychologically as well as economically, as it’s harder for them to find employment and even housing. Mental health stigma can lead to tension among family members and even rejection. Outside the family, it leads to mistrust, fear and sometimes violence against those with a mental illness. Unfortunately, our society is constantly showing the mental ill in a negative light, whether it’s on television, in the movies or in the media.

Common myths associated with mental illness

People suffering from mental illness are often portrayed in the media as villains, total failures, and bums. The clinical terms of “psychotic” and “schizophrenic” are often misunderstood and misused. Common myths that must be dispelled are as follows:

Myth: Those with a mental illness are often faking their symptoms. They’re probably just lazy and irresponsible.

Truth: Mental Health America conducted a survey that found that 31% of Americans think depression is simply a “state of mind.” The truth is that behaviors caused by mental illness CANNOT be controlled by force of will.

Myth: Someone who is severely mentally ill cannot be treated.

Truth: The effectiveness of treatments for the severely mentally ill is comparable to the efficacy of treatments in other areas of medicine, including surgery.

Myth: The mentally ill are violent.

Truth: Research shows that the overwhelming majority of people prone to violence do not have a mental disorder. In those cases where a mentally ill person does become violent, the incident usually results from the same types of things that trigger violence among those in the general population, such as heavy drinking and/or drug use or feeling somehow threatened.

Myth: Mental illness is not found in children and adolescents

Truth: In children from 9 to 17 years of age, 21% suffer from a diagnosed mental illness. Half of those a lifetime mental illness, were diagnosed by the time they were 14 years of age. Identifying this early and receiving appropriate treatment can significantly improve the person’s quality of life.

How you can help diminish mental health stigma

You can help by politely speaking to others about their stigmatizing behavior. You can become active in speaking out when the media misrepresents mental illness and insist that the government be accountable when they participate. Reach out to local mental health organizations and media outlets that are being offensive when you hear them using stereotypes. Support legislation to improve the availability of treatment for mental health problems. If you can afford to contribute funding, that too would help. Last but not least, treat people you encounter who might be suffering from a mental illness with respect and dignity.

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