There are many reasons why people develop mental illness. Some are genetic or biological. Some are a result of childhood trauma or overwhelming stress at school, work or home. Some stem from environmental injustice or violence. Sometimes, we simply don’t know. Regardless of the reasons, these are health problems just like cancer, arthritis or diabetes. So why does society look at people with mental illness, including substance use disorders, differently? The answer is Stigma. The real question however, is how do we stop it?
The Effects of Stigma
Fear and misunderstanding often lead to prejudice against people with mental illness and addictions, even among service providers. It’s one of the main reasons why many people don’t consider it a real health issue. This prejudice and discrimination leads to feelings of hopelessness and shame in those struggling to cope with their situation, creating a serious barrier to diagnosis and treatment.
Seven Things You Can Do to Reduce Stigma
1. Know the facts. Educate yourself about mental illness including substance use disorders.
2. Be aware of your attitude and behavior. Examine your own judgmental thinking, reinforced by upbringing and society.
3. Choose your words carefully. The way we speak can affect the attitudes of others.
4. Educate others. Pass on facts and positive attitudes, challenge myths and stereotypes.
5. Focus on the positive. Mental illness, including addictions, are only part of anyone’s larger picture.
6. Support people. Treat everyone with dignity and respect; offer support and encouragement.
7. Include everyone. It’s against the law to deny jobs or services to anyone with these health issues.