February 8, 2024

The Impact of Stigma

The Impact of Stigma

What is Stigma?You may have come across the term ‘stigma’ before, and often in relation to mental health. Stigma can be defined as “a strong feeling of disapproval that most people in a society have about something, especially when this is unfair” (Cambridge Dictionary, 2019). One can understand stigma as divided into two, not necessarily mutually exclusive categories - social stigma and self-stigma. The former relates to public, negative stereotypes and is often associated with unfavourable treatment towards those to whom the perceived stigma is attached. The latter is a more personalised, internalised stigma towards the self which is often associated with overall worse wellbeing and greater avoidance (Clement et al., 2014).

Often stigma can be as a consequence of a lack of information or knowledge on a specific topic. If something is unknown, it may appear frightening or disliked as we do not fully understand it. Mental health difficulties are still a relatively recent addition to public discussion and as a result are still not something we speak openly about. Mental health is not yet part of the curriculum in English schools but is taught within the Scottish education system.

How does Stigma affect Mental Health?Many people suffering with mental health difficulties report a ‘strong feeling of disapproval’ from those around them when they have opened up about their mental health needs. There are many unhelpful myths about mental health that are part of the public narrative, which help to maintain and exacerbate stigma. For instance, there may be a general belief that mental health issues are rare and only experienced by a few. On the contrary, 1 in 4 people will experience problems with their mental health at some point in their lives. Some also believe that if you suffer problems with your mental health you are more likely to be a risk towards others. In fact, the majority of crimes committed in the UK are done so by people with no current mental health needs. People in psychological distress are more likely to be victims of crime.

People may avoid seeking help or opening up about their difficulties because they are fearful others will see and treat them differently, based on social and self-stigma. They may worry about losing a job opportunity or that people will avoid them or withdraw. Unfortunately, this only serves to enhance the feeling of ‘being different’ that stigmatisation brings. People also miss out on the opportunity to connect with others and receive help and support to aid recovery.

What is being done to Combat Stigma?Though the stigma surrounding mental health can be harmful both on an individual and societal level, there is some good news: more and more people are talking about their experience of mental health difficulties and about the different sources of support available:

Time to Change is a social movement which aims to increase awareness of mental health issues and to promote a healthy discussion around the topic by organising talks in schools, promoting ‘Champions’ to reach out to the community, amongst other things.

The Mental Health Foundation has launched a campaign called ‘Make It Count’, which aims to increase education in mental health in schools and to “put emotional wellbeing at the heart of the school curriculum”.

This week (13th - 19th of May) is Mental Health Awareness week, and is hosted by the Mental Health Foundation. The focus this year is on body image - how we think and feel about our bodies. This week is an excellent opportunity to get involved in the discussion, help increase awareness in your workplace and to connect with people who may have similar experiences. Often people suffer in silence. You may be surprised to learn that you are not alone with your experiences and others can share useful insights and ways of coping through their tough times.

You can download a free supporter pack describing this year’s Mental Health Awareness week in more detail here:https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/sites/default/files/MHF_MHAW19_BodyImage_SupporterPack_INTERACTIVE_LO.pdf

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