Ignore the stigma: Seek help. You have a right to be well

The stigma surrounding mental illness, and the stigma surrounding substance use dependence, continue despite ongoing public awareness campaigns to increase knowledge and understanding. People wanting help to overcome their mental health issues should not be prevented from becoming healthy because of the ignorance of others.

As Health Direct points out, stigma happens from a lack of understanding of mental illness, through ignorance and misinformation. It can also happen because some people have negative attitudes or beliefs (prejudice) towards mental illness. The healthdirect.gov.au article, Mental Illness Stigma, goes on to say that a person who is stigmatized may be treated differently and excluded from many things the rest of society takes for granted. They might be labeled because of their illness, making them more likely to face discrimination.

When it comes to a dual diagnosis involving a mental illness and a substance use disorder, the stigma can increase significantly and it only serves to compound the initial diagnosis.

“The stigma of living with a mental health condition has been described as being worse than the experience of the illness itself,” states a report published by the National Library of medicine titled Strategies to Reduce Mental Illness Stigma: Perspectives of People with Lived Experience and Caregivers.

For a person suffering with a mental illness, or someone who suffers a mental illness and who self medicates to cope with the suffering, both stigma and fear of facing stigma, can have harmful or life-threatening effects. As Mayo Clinic’s article, Mental Health: Overcoming the stigma of mental illness, reports:

Some of the harmful effects of stigma can include:

• Reluctance to seek help or treatment

•Lack of understanding by family, friends, co-workers or others

•Fewer opportunities for work, school or social activities or trouble finding housing

• Bullying, physical violence or harassment

• Health insurance that doesn’t adequately cover your mental illness treatment

• The belief that the person will never succeed at certain challenges or that he or she cannot improve his or her situation.

Despite the strides that have been made in recent years regarding mental health awareness, there is still a strong stigma attached to mental illness because of how it has been approached in the past, states Colorado-based Jefferson Center, the nonprofit, community-focused mental health care and substance use services provider.

“Our understanding of mental health has evolved drastically,” the center’s website states, “but the harmful belief that people with mental illnesses are ‘different’ from everyone else still exists today.”

For those who suffer from a mental health issue, substance use issue or both, they have as much right to be well as anyone else.

“First and foremost, getting your mental illness treated and managed will help to improve your quality of life,” says the Lehigh Center for Clinical Research. “Living with mental illness will always be a battle, but getting the proper treatment will make it much more manageable, allowing you to enjoy everything life has to offer without your condition getting in the way.”

Mayo Clinic, in its article, echoes the sentiments of the Lehigh Center:

“Get treatment. You may be reluctant to admit you need treatment. Don’t let the fear of being labeled with a mental illness prevent you from seeking help,” states Mayo’s article. “Treatment can provide relief by identifying what’s wrong and reducing symptoms that interfere with your work and personal life.”

Others’ judgments almost always stem from a lack of understanding rather than information based on facts, says Mayo. Learning to accept your condition and recognize what you need to do to treat it, seeking support and helping educate others can make a big difference.

Mayo goes on suggest:

“Don’t let stigma create self-doubt and shame. Stigma doesn’t just come from others. You may mistakenly believe that your condition is a sign of personal weakness or that you should be able to control it without help. Seeking counseling, educating yourself about your condition and connecting with others who have mental illness can help you gain self-esteem and overcome destructive self-judgment.”

People with mental illness are not the mental illness, Mayo’s article points out.

“Don’t equate yourself with your illness. You are not an illness. So instead of saying “I’m bipolar,” say “I have bipolar disorder.” Instead of calling yourself “a schizophrenic,” say “I have schizophrenia.”


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