Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Where does stigma come from?

Welcome Back!

A little about stigma today...
I have dealt with a decent amount of stigma surrounding mental illness in my lifetime.  Even if the stigma was not directed towards me, it still had an effect on me.  More often than not, I find myself in a situation in which I am embarrassed or ashamed to admit that I have a mental illness.  I have found myself in many situations where those around me did not know of my Bipolar Disorder and have said things that were no doubt offensive to me and I just took it all in and never said anything.  I wasn’t at a point in my life until very recently that I felt comfortable enough to talk about my illness with others and not feel ashamed or embarrassed.  I can honestly say that I am still not at the point where in the middle of a conversation where someone was negatively discussing mental illness that I could diffuse it and educate.  That takes a lot of courage, I know I am well on my way to that point, but I’m not there yet for sure.  The only real way to get rid of stigma is to educate people about mental illness and to open up to people about your own mental illness so they can see that we are just like them.

What is stigma?

Stigma is defined by Webster’s dictionary as: a mark of shame or discredit.

Where does stigma come from?

Stigma comes from:
  •  Stereotypes 
  •  Ignorance
  • Misconception
  • Fear
  • Hollywood portrayal

"Stigma leads the public to avoid people with mental disorders. It reduces access to resources and leads to low self-esteem, isolation, and hopelessness. It deters the public from seeking, and wanting to pay for care. Stigma results in outright discrimination and abuse. More tragically, it deprives people of their dignity and interferes with their full participation in society."  (U.S. Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher)

Stigma makes those of us with a mental illness ashamed and afraid to talk about our mental health.  The fact is NO ONE should ever be ashamed of an illness that they have.  No one is at fault for having a mental illness; unfortunately, society tends to make us feel at fault for our illness and therefore ashamed of it.

So what can be done to begin to change this cycle?

For starters… Education! Education! Education! Knowledge is key!

Other than that, take a look at SAMHSA’s list of Myth’s and Fact’s about Mental Illness for some knowledge and some ideas on how to begin to end the cycle of stigma:

Myth: There's no hope for people with mental illnesses.
Fact: There are more treatments, strategies, and community supports than ever before, and even more are on the horizon. People with mental illnesses lead active, productive lives.

Myth: I can't do anything for someone with mental health needs.
Fact: You can do a lot, starting with the way you act and how you speak. You can nurture an environment that builds on people's strengths and promotes good mental health. For example:
  • Avoid labeling people with words like "crazy," "wacko," "loony," or by their diagnosis. Instead of saying someone is a "schizophrenic" say "a person with schizophrenia."
  • Learn the facts about mental health and share them with others, especially if you hear something that is untrue.
  • Treat people with mental illnesses with respect and dignity, as you would anybody else.
  • Respect the rights of people with mental illnesses and don't discriminate against them when it comes to housing, employment, or education. Like other people with disabilities, people with mental health needs are protected under Federal and State laws.
Myth: People with mental illnesses are violent and unpredictable.
Fact: In reality, the vast majority of people who have mental health needs are no more violent than anyone else. You probably know someone with a mental illness and don't even realize it.

Myth: Mental illnesses cannot affect me.
Fact: Mental illnesses are surprisingly common; they affect almost every family in America. Mental illnesses do not discriminate-they can affect anyone. 

Myth: Mental illnesses are brought on by a weakness of character.
Fact: Mental illnesses are a product of the interaction of biological, psychological, and social factors. Research has shown genetic and biological factors are associated with schizophrenia, bipolar, depression, and alcoholism. Social influences, such as loss of a loved one or a job, can also contribute to the development of various disorders.

Myth: Once people develop mental illnesses, they will never recover.
Fact: Studies show that most people with mental illnesses get better, and many recover completely. Recovery refers to the process in which people are able to live, work, learn, and participate fully in their communities. For some individuals, recovery is the ability to live a fulfilling and productive life. For others, recovery implies the reduction or complete remission of symptoms. Science has shown that having hope plays an integral role in an individual's recovery.

I picked out the few ones that I related to the best, if you would like to see the entire list, you can visit SAMHSA’s site at:  Myths and Facts about Mental Illness

One of my favorites that SAMHSA mentioned and that I’d like to expand upon is referring to someone as being a mental illness.  I am not Bipolar, I am Sara.  However, I do have Bipolar.  Saying that I am Bipolar is defining me as my illness.  Many do this with no harm meant; however, know that it can be offensive.  I work very hard to remain as asymptomatic as possible; I don’t want to be defined as Bipolar.  I want to be defined by my hopes, dreams, aspirations and accomplishments.

“Follow the path of the unsafe, independent thinker. Expose your ideas to the dangers of controversy. Speak your mind and fear less the label of 'crackpot' than the stigma of conformity. And on issues that seem important to you, stand up and be counted at any cost. “ -Chauncey Depew

Thanks for reading! Until next time….

-Kissing Stigma Goodbye-

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