Addressing stigma in mental healthcare
Mental health and wellness has recently become more visible and more widely discussed. It’s now more common to seek mental health services, and more people are normalizing getting treatment by publicly sharing their mental health journey. Although we are moving in a positive direction of awareness and acceptance, there are some instances where mental health stigma persists.
Mental health stigma is when someone is viewed negatively due to their mental health diagnosis or treatment. Mental health stigma can lead to invalidation and discrimination, both of which can be something that individuals within the queer community already struggle with. Stigma against people with mental health conditions can appear in many different ways. People may face invalidation by not being taken seriously, or having their mental health needs dismissed by their family, friends, or community. Likewise, people may also encounter discriminatory or hostile attitudes because of their mental health condition and the treatment they need.
It’s important to openly address mental health stigma. Not only does it directly impact the quality of life for so many people, but it can also get in the way of accessing proper mental health care, which is something that’s tremendously important for our community.
What can we do to address mental health stigma?
The first thing that we can do to help fight stigma is learn more about mental health and wellness, including our own. There can be a lot of misunderstandings around mental health conditions and learning more can help dispel some of the harmful myths. As part of educating ourselves, we can become aware of our attitudes around mental health. We are often faced with negative portrayals of mental health in the media as well as our own environments. This can lead us to develop and internalize negative biases about mental health diagnoses and treatments. When we start to critically engage those biases, both about ourselves and others, we are better able to address our own mental health and support others in their journey.
The second thing that we can do to fight stigma is talk about mental health. Every person has mental health and wellness difficulties at different times in their life, whether it’s related to a mental health condition, or a stressful event. Having more open conversations about mental health encourages those around us to share as well.
It’s also important to focus on the use of language around mental health. How many times have we heard someone (maybe even ourselves) say something like, “You’re so OCD”? When we use mental health diagnoses to casually describe someone or something, it can incorrectly portray and invalidate the experience of those who have difficulties with these symptoms. In addition, using language like “That’s crazy,” can help the negative connotation around mental health persist.
One way we can improve the way we talk about mental health is to use people-first language. This is a way of speaking that puts the individual before their condition or diagnosis. Instead of describing someone simply as “Bipolar,” we can say, “A person with a mental health condition,” or “A person living with Bipolar Disorder.” Our mental health conditions are not the sole identifying factor that defines us, they are just one of the many things that make up our complex personal identity.
Mental health stigma can also be addressed by encouraging an equal view of physical and mental illness. Going to a therapist is an important part of taking care of our health, just like going for our annual physical or getting a tooth repaired. As we start to equate mental health and physical health treatments, we can normalize people taking care of their mental health. Our bodies and minds are interconnected, and taking care of both is important to our overall health.