Research shows that over half of the people who need mental health care in the United States go untreated. A variety of reasons can contribute to this, including lack of mental health professionals, access in a given geographic region, or even limited insurance coverage. More often than not however, the common barrier to overcome involves our own stigmatization of what seeking mental health services means about us. Study after study reveals that many people avoid or delay seeking treatment due to their perception that they may be treated differently, or that seeking treatment may impact their jobs or social status.
Despite Progress, Studies Show Many Still Have A Negative View Of Mental Illness
According to the American Psychiatric Association, “a review of studies on stigma shows that while the public may accept the medical or genetic nature of a mental health disorder and the need for treatment, many people still have a negative view of those with mental illness”. Another study concluded "there is no country, society or culture where people with mental illness have the same societal ranking as those without mental illness." These views and perceptions cause public and self-stigma around mental health issues:
Self-Stigma is internalized negative attitudes people with mental illness may have about their own condition.
Public Stigma is negative or discriminatory attitudes that may be held by others about mental illness.
Media Stereotypes Contribute To The Stigma
The media has been guilty of exploiting both types by sensationalizing mental health disorders in an effort to amplify character personality traits or storytelling. A study revealed how entertainment and news media dramatize, distort, or over-simplify mental illness. The portrayals are often overly dramatic, distorted, and over-simplified characterizations that emphasize danger and unpredictability, or describe people with mental illness as ‘helpless’ with little chance of recovery.
We can all probably think of a news story, movie, or series that distorted characterizations. The popular Netflix series “Behind Her Eyes”, based on a novel of the same name, is a good example of a simplistic and negative portrayal of stereotypical (and not inherently true) characteristics related to mental illness and trauma, which propels the notion of hopelessness and acts as a deterrent by someone wanting to seek help with their symptoms but because don’t want to “be like the characters” . Fortunately, people are starting to recognize the media’s role in stigmatization and are proposing steps to address it. More on that below.
What Are The Harmful Effects Of Stigma Around Mental Health Issues?
As you can imagine, the most harmful effect of stigma is a reluctance to seek help for mental illness or maintaining a regular treatment plan. Other negative impacts include:
Worsening Of Mental Health Conditions
Difficulties At Work And In Relationships
How Do We Address The Stigma Around Mental Health Issues?
The good news is that many influential organizations and institutions are aware of the problem and are working hard to develop ways to address it. The two approaches that look to have the greatest impact are:
Educating the public broadly to alter stereotypical stigmatizing beliefs and attitudes.
Enhancing individual skills for coping with self-stigma through improvements in self-esteem, self-empowerment, and improved help-seeking behavior.
On the public side, experts have suggested and are already making in-roads in implementing required mental health issues training for journalists, including expert input from psychiatrists in movie or TV productions (and including disclaimers or further information at opening or closing credits), using non-individualized descriptions of mental illness (i.e., “a person with an addiction”, rather than “an addicted person”), and using mental-health terminology with more precision, fairness, and expertise.
On the individual side, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has come up with some tips to guide conversations with those who may be feeling stigmatized, and to improve our own potentially-stigmatized thinking about our mental health issues:
Don’t Underestimate The Unfortunate Power Of Self-Stigma. Assume that your family member, friend, or patient is experiencing self-stigma, given its prevalence. Try to identify and understand its potential consequences. We often don’t want to admit that stigma impacts us as much as it does. Consider if you have made stigmatizing comments, even if unintentionally, and be prepared to recognize this behavior.
Use Facts & Resources To Prove That Common Stigma Examples Are False. Talk about common examples of stigma to show your familiarity and experience with them. You may also note common emotional reactions triggered by stigma, for example, sadness and anger.
Be Aware That Although It May Not Seem Reasonable For Them To Believe Stereotypes To Be True, They May Still Be Feeling Them. Be cautious about delegitimizing, diminishing, or dismissing emotions by saying things like, “you shouldn’t feel that way” or “why do you feel that way?” This may provoke an emotionally defensive response.
When Someone Is Willing To Discuss Their Self-Stigma, Simply Listen. Empathize and validate their emotions. Engaging with peers, including conversations about stigma, can help normalize the feelings associated with self-stigma and allow for a “collaborative” resistance to stigma.
Increased Availability Of Telebehavioral Health Services Can Also Help Alleviate The Stigma Around Mental Health
The recent increased availability of telebehavioral health services has also been shown to help decrease self-stigma in accessing treatment for mental health issues. Since people don’t have to leave their house to access mental health professionals, no one is aware they’re receiving treatment. For those who worry about being treated differently because of their mental illness, this extra level of privacy has had significant positive effects. Virtual behavioral health services obviously also increase access for those with mobility issues or who live in areas that don’t have enough mental health providers.
Considering A Career In Telebehavioral Health Or Know Someone Who Could Benefit From Virtual Access To Licensed Professionals?
Telemynd offers patients the ability to connect with providers from the safety and convenience of their homes. Providers can join our network by applying online. If you’re a patient, choose your current insurance provider to request an appointment online or call our live support for assistance in scheduling care today!
Mental Health America (MHA): Access to Care 2020
National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI): The Many Impacts of Self-Stigma
American Psychiatric Association: Stigma and Discrimination Around Mental Health