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​Mental Illness: The Impact of Stigma

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By  Sue Shotan

It is no secret that mental illness is surrounded by stigma. There are numerous negative terms used to describe people with mental illness; many of these terms are used in everyday conversation. We are so familiar with them in fact, that most people have no idea that they are furthering the stigma by using them.

Think about some of these common terms: crazy, nuts, wacko, psycho. We use these terms to describe people, ideas, events, etc. but also to label those with legitimate medical conditions. By referring to people this way we casually toss them into a group without really trying to understand them, or their illness.

The fact is that 1 in 4 American adults can be diagnosed with a mental illness in any given year. That's 25% of the adult U.S. population. Chances are you know someone who has a mental illness. Studies have shown that those with mental illnesses can recover faster and better with the support of family and friends. Even so, many people choose to hide their disorders from even their closest family members, co-workers and social circles. Why? Because of stigma.

Stigma makes these individuals feel ashamed of their disorder, fearful of how people's perceptions of them may change. They even fear knowing themselves; which is why it often takes people so long to seek treatment for a mental disorder. When terms like "crazy," "nuts," "wacko," etc. are so predominant, you can see why someone with a diagnosis would be fearful of revealing it.

In this way, stigma hurts an individual already dealing with the pain of a mental illness. But the impact is far greater than just the individual. If stigma prevents someone from seeking help for a mental illness, their illness may become worse. This can affect their family life, job or school performance, and social network. Left untreated, a person may lose their job, family and friends. An astounding number of homeless individuals suffer from mental illness. There are high levels of mentally ill individuals in jails as well (on mostly non-violent charges).

In our society, stigma has an enormous impact. At best, it can cause someone to have to suffer silently with their mental health problem. At its worse, it can cause job loss, family disruption, homelessness and incarceration. Both extremes are unacceptable.

There are many things we can all do to eliminate stigma and create a healthier community. First is to become educated about mental health and the disorders that affect so many people. Stigma often arises from misconceptions and fears. Second is to eliminate negative slang terms. Use "people first" language i.e. "a person with schizophrenia," instead of just "crazy." By learning about mental illness and being respectful of those with these common medical conditions, we can make huge progress towards eliminating stigma.

Sue Shotan is a mental health advocate and educator working in collaboration with community partners to help eliminate stigma, promote awareness, and help improve the lives of those living with mental illness. Sue is currently partnering with Connee Gorman, LLC, a mental health education company, to provide mental health education in the Midwest. Please visit to learn more. Product on Mental Illness: Coping with a Mentally Ill Family Member

Article  Source:  Mental Illness: The Impact of Stigma

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