According to the Oxford Dictionary, the definition of stigma is “negative feelings that people have about particular circumstances or characteristics that somebody may have”

When relating this to mental health conditions, someone diagnosed with a disorder may be viewed negatively and treated differently. They may be made to feel worthless and ashamed, as if they are in some way inferior to others.

Examples of mental health stigma include labelling someone as “crazy”, “unstable”, “nuts” or “incompetent”. These views come about generally due to lack of education and understanding about mental illness through misinformation and ignorance. Stigma may also occur because of prejudiced views, where some people are conditioned to have negative attitudes towards those suffering with their mental health. There may also be stigma associated with someone seeking support as they may be considered weak.

The impact that negative stigma has towards mental health issues can be incredibly destructive and have a significant impact on one’s potential to pursue and receive help. A person who has a mental health condition may end up being marginalised because of exclusion and differential treatment.

Prejudice towards someone experiencing mental health concerns may contribute to their low self-esteem, withdrawal from society, increased risk of drug and alcohol abuse and even suicide.

So how can we, as a community, reduce stigma and improve outcomes for those suffering with their mental health?

Here are some strategies and ways in which this can be achieved:

  • When you hear someone speaking negatively about mental health issues, speak up! People living with mental health conditions deserve to be treated with respect and should be accepted just like everyone else.
  • Be mindful about vernacular – inappropriate words, terms and phrases can be hurtful and insensitive.
  • Do not define someone according to their condition. Someone with a broken leg is not a broken leg, they have a broken leg.  Someone with bipolar affective disorder is not bipolar, they have bipolar.
  • Educate yourself and use evidence-based facts – mental illness is common and not a sign of weakness or inferiority. Knowing correct information means you can share this with others.
  • Educate others and defend negative stereotypes – set the record straight when you hear inaccurate or damaging misinformation.
  • Challenge discrimination and bullying – sadly those with mental health conditions can often be treated differently and may not be offered the same opportunities as others, most commonly in the workplace. Discrimination towards someone with a mental health condition in the workplace is against the law in accordance with the Disability Discrimination Act of Australia.
  • Keep communication lines open – helping others relies on open, honest and clear communication. If someone discloses their mental health struggles to you, listen to them and be non-judgmental.  Acknowledge what the person is saying to you, don’t trivialise or dismiss what they are experiencing and give them any information you have on available resources and supports.
  • Encourage and empower someone with a mental health concern to seek help. Dispel the stigma that getting support is weak and always remember, it takes a brave, strong person to acknowledge they are struggling and expose their vulnerabilities.

We can collectively elicit change, challenge discrimination, educate and support others suffering with mental health issues.  Statistically speaking, approximately 45% of all Australians will experience some form of mental health concern in their lifetime.

Whether that is you personally, a loved one, a colleague or a complete stranger, being respectful and accepting of someone living with mental illness can have an invaluable impact on their life, their wellbeing and their recovery.

Always remember, do unto others as you would have them do unto to you!

Catch you in the next blog!