Taking a dictionary definition approach, stigma is “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.” For purposes of behavioral health, people often assign negative qualities to a person based on their circumstances.
Stigma usually appears in three forms. Here’s how it can influence people consciously and unconsciously.
Discrimination and devaluation by others. Stigma in the public sphere can refer to stereotypes of people with behavioral health conditions. Belief in those stereotypes and actions taken in response can affect job prospects, housing decisions, even the quality of healthcare that they receive.
Reduced access to care and resources due to policies. Systemic stigma exists when those public stigma stereotypes are embodied in laws, institutions, and organizations that regulate or influence society. While public stigma affects individuals or smaller groups, systemic stigma affects large groups of people.
Internalization of negative stereotypes. Internalized stigma affects a person’s self-esteem and self-efficacy leading to persistent doubt and hopelessness.
Why Breaking Stigma Matters
Addressing the influence of stigma and working to reduce it is vitally important in addressing the behavioral health needs of our state. Stigma serves as a barrier to treatment keeping a person in a potentially life-threatening situation. Listen to the perspective in the video above.
Easy Ways You Can Reduce Stigma
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) has some great ideas on ways we all can break stigma around behavioral health challenges.
· Talk openly about mental health. Social media has become a great space for positivity.
· Educate yourself and others –respond to misperceptions or negative comments by sharing facts and experiences.
· Be conscious of language – remind people that words matter.
· Encourage equality between physical and mental illness – draw comparisons to how they would treat someone with cancer or diabetes.
· Be honest about treatment – normalize mental health treatment, just like other health care treatments.
· Show compassion for those with mental illness.
· Choose empowerment over shame.
- Department of Mental Health & Substance Abuse Services