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Mental Health and Stigma: Causes and Effects

Nearly one in five adults in the US (approximately 20% of the population) lives with a mental illness of some kind. And yet, in spite of its prevalence, there remains a pervasive stigma around mental illness in many modern cultures. 

What Does Mental Health Stigma Look Like?

Stigma against people with mental illness takes a variety of different forms, from negative attitudes to differential treatment to outright discrimination. While each person’s experience of stigma will look different, here are a few examples of how it can manifest:

Perpetuation of harmful stereotypes or prejudices about people who suffer from mental illness (e.g., that they are violent, unpredictable, or that they are just acting out for attention)

Refusal of landlords or employers to offer housing or employment opportunities to people with mental illness

Poorer quality of care for their physical health problems from healthcare providers

 Insensitive treatment or lack of understanding on the part of friends, family members, or acquaintances

Where Does Mental Health Stigma Come From?

As with most forms of stigma or discrimination, the stigma surrounding mental health issues is rooted in lack of knowledge about what mental illness is and how it works. Many people still believe that mental illness is a choice, or that people with mental illness are aggressive and unstable. 

What’s more, mainstream media and entertainment often feed these stereotypes by portraying characters with mental illness as crazy or dangerous in TV shows and movies. These connections are further reinforced by the sensationalization of news that has to do with crimes committed by people with mental illness (in spite of the fact that research has shown that people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of crimes than perpetrators). 

Consequences of Mental Health Stigmas

Mental health stigma is particularly insidious because it can easily become internalized by the person who experiences it. If an individual is continually treated as though they are inadequate or unworthy, they may come to believe it themselves. This in turn can result in reduced hope and self-esteem, isolation, and worsening of their psychiatric symptoms. Moreover, if that person comes to expect rejection or discriminatory treatment, they may be less likely to seek care or work toward opportunities that could improve their lives. 

RADIAS Health provides person-centered integrated healthcare services to people experiencing mental illness, substance use, or co-occurring disorders. Our services encompass primary care and behavioral health services delivered by compassionate, skilled health care and support staff. In addition, our care includes supplementary services such as case management, supportive housing, homeless services, residential services, outpatient DBT treatment, and more. If you or someone you know could benefit from our mission, contact us today or consider donating!

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