Posted: August 2019
Despite scientific advancements in the understanding and treatment of mental illness, there continues to be a stigma associated with mental illness. In fact, the Surgeon General identified stigma as a public health concern.
Stigma stems at least in part from the fact that for hundreds of years, mental illness was perceived as something bad, like the mark of the devil or a type of moral punishment. Unfortunately, individuals with mental illness were ostracized and isolated; and most treatments were inhumane.
While we know more about mental illness today and can more effectively manage it with treatments and medications, people still tend to shy away from mental illness like it is taboo. Stigma also contributes to patients not seeking treatment that would improve their quality of life.
As providers, we can help change society’s perceptions about mental illness as well as an individual’s perceptions about their illness. We can help them understand they have an illness that can be treated and remind them that they are not alone. Encourage your patients to connect with organizations like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
Plus, as providers, we should be doing all that we can to debunk the stigma of mental illness by educating those around us. We can use respectful language to talk about mental illness, recognize the connection between mental and physical health, challenge misperceptions when we see them, and encourage all to see individuals rather than their condition.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Mental Health Services, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Mental Health, 1999.
Social media: Follow the #EndStigma hashtag and connect with others seeking to change perceptions about mental health.