Updated August 7, 2023
The stigma of mental health continues to be prevalent despite society’s vocal support for advocacy. Half of those with mental illness didn’t receive treatment in 2020 due to fears of being seen differently or losing their job. That’s because discrimination is still a real concern. Many people are in favor of empowering mental health, but what would the world look like if that were the case?
Discrimination, Prejudice and the Stigma of Mental Health
Everyday life is challenging for anyone experiencing distress and worrisome psychiatric disorder symptoms. It’s difficult enough to find and get treatment, but there’s also the issue of widespread stigmas around mental health to contend with.
It’s one thing to say you can accept that mental illness has a genetic or medical nature, and people with mental health conditions require treatment. Yet it’s another thing to be compassionate and understanding of others with a mental illness.
“Discrimination” is a word that’s frequently used regarding race, class and sex. However, with mental health, there’s a notable silence. It’s an unfortunate fact that people with mental illness suffer from many forms of prejudice, including:
Health Care Coverage and Treatment
Insurance companies directly discriminate against people with mental illness by denying coverage. A Congressional Budget Office analysis found that mental health services were reimbursed 13-14% less often by commercial plans than Medicare. Physical health insurance claims don’t undergo the same kind of scrutiny as those for mental health issues.
Employment and Pay
Employment is fundamental to our well-being as it provides a feeling of purpose. Studies conducted by Yale concluded that those with mental health issues were less likely to be hired. This stigma discourages people from seeking support and encourages them to hide their illness from employers and coworkers.
Unfair Housing Practices
Landlords have found creative ways to circumvent housing laws and discriminate against those with mental health issues. One HUD study discovered those with mental illness were less likely to receive communications about available rental housing. They also received adverse treatment when requesting reasonable accommodation for their mental health condition.
Criminal Justice Stigma
Mental health is a major factor in incarceration rates. Studies show that a major mental illness diagnosis significantly increases the odds of going to jail. The prevalence of mental illness in prisoners is extremely high compared to the average population.
The media continues to contribute to negative stereotypes surrounding mental health. Many exaggerated and inaccurate images are used to portray those suffering from mental illness in movies, TV and social media. News reports intentionally sensationalize violence and murder associated with mental health issues.
This lack of support from society continues to cause shame about mental health conditions. Prejudice against mental illness has lead to self-harm for some individuals. Empowering mental health means providing recognition and support for those who need it.
Addressing Stigmas Around Mental Health
There is strong evidence of effectiveness in reducing stigma, including self-stigma about mental health. This centers on interacting with those who have experienced mental health issues and long-term commitment and support efforts. It isn’t enough to talk about reducing mental health stigma. Actions are crucial to get it done.
A 2020 survey of young teens found that three in four who sought information about depression online wanted stories from those who experienced it themselves. Young people said they used the Internet to:
- Research mental health issues (90 percent)
- Access anecdotal health stories in videos, podcasts, and blogs (75 percent)
- Used well-being apps on smartphones (38 percent)
- Connected with medical and health providers by text and video chat (32 percent)
- Effective social media marketing campaigns to reduce stigma can have a double positive effect
A study on a California anti-stigma campaign estimated that if adults with probable mental health illness saw it, about 47 percent said they’d receive treatment. By comparison, 36 percent would get treatment if they didn’t see it.
What Is Self-Stigma?
Self-stigma is the shame that those with a mental illness feel. It involves negative thoughts and attitudes, which reflect their everyday interactions with others and reluctance to discuss their condition.
The harms that self-stigma associated with a severe mental illness can cause tend to worsen without treatment. In a 2017 study, researchers found that among study participants with mental illness and greater self-stigma, recovery suffered after 1-2 years.
Mental Health Stigma in the Workplace
The results of a 2019 American Psychiatric Association (APA) poll showed that mental health stigma remained a “major challenge” in the workplace:
- More than 50 percent express concern about mental health discussions at work.
- More than one in three worried they’d be fired or retaliated against if they got mental health treatment.
- About one person in five expressed comfort discussing mental health issues.
- Millennials felt more at ease discussing personal mental health issues than baby boomers.
- Roughly half of the workers were okay with having mental health conversations.
- Most agreed they’d help a peer find mental health help.
- Yet, about one person in four said they didn’t know where to find mental health help, even if they wanted to help a co-worker.
How Can You Support Mental Health?
There are many small ways to show your support. If you know someone who’s struggling with mental health issues, taking these actions can contribute positively to their well-being:
- Be ready to help: If you notice that someone seems to be struggling, proactively offer to help. Sit down with them privately and ask how their day is going. Ease into the conversation gradually. Always respect boundaries and never force someone to talk when they don’t want to.
- Listen without interruption: Put your cell phone away. Don’t become distracted or attempt to change the subject. When someone opens up about a delicate subject such as their mental health, they deserve your full attention.
- Don’t attempt a diagnosis: Searching for symptoms on the internet doesn’t make you an expert. Don’t make assumptions about what’s wrong or jump in with your conclusions.
- Empathize: The ability to understand and share the feelings of another requires openness. You may not fully comprehend what someone is going through, but try to relate as much as you can.
- Ask how you can help: When a person is with dealing with mental illness, daily tasks may be difficult to complete. Offer to come by and help clean, walk the dog or mow the lawn. You can make a positive impact simply by helping with chores.
- Encourage professional support: Offer to go with someone to speak with a mental health professional. Regularly ask how the treatment is going, and praise them for taking steps to get better.
- Be mindful of terms and phrases: Many mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety are spoken about casually. Saying things like “I’m so depressed!” when you’re just feeling a little down about something undermines people who are dealing with the condition.
- Don’t disclose someone’s diagnosis to others: Never share information about someone’s mental illness with others. Disclosing a diagnosis can seriously impact the individual’s work and social life. It always should be their choice.
There are other ways to show your support besides being a good listener. Volunteering can provide helping hands at underfunded mental health facilities. Attending awareness walks and other events can help raise community awareness of mental health issues. Educating your friends and family about the stigma of mental health can also make an impact. Regardless of what method you choose, remember that advocacy starts with you.
If You’re Suffering, Don’t Go It Alone
Society may continue to stigmatize mental health, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek support. Tell someone if you’re struggling, because getting the help you need is crucial to your well-being. Not addressing mental health issues can lead to other serious health problems, such as:
- Chronic pain: The mind can cope with mental illness by causing aches, pains and gastrointestinal issues with no physical source.
- Instability: Mental illness can make it difficult to perform daily tasks. Letting your work and personal life suffer can lead to instability in your day-to-day life and reduce your chances of recovery.
- Substance misuse: You may seek relief by using substances to diminish your symptoms. People with untreated mental illness are much more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol.
- Suicide: Living with an untreated mental illness can leave you feeling that there’s no way out. Research has shown that mental health issues are significant contributing factors in the majority of suicides.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to FHE Health if you have any mental health concerns. Contact us today at (833) 596-3502 to get the support you need to start your journey toward mental wellness. Our compassionate counselors are available 24/7 to speak with you.