Cross out Stigma

There is More Than One Way to Stigmatize Mental Health Issues

We talk a lot about stigma in the mental health community. So much that you would think it shouldn’t be too much of an issue any longer. Not that there aren’t examples of people saying ignorant things about people with depression or bipolar, etc., but generally, it has become less acceptable to say those things in public. So, we’re eliminating stigma.

Not so fast.

The stigma that makes it acceptable to ridicule people about their mental health issues might be frowned upon now, but there are many other ways for stigma to show up. The Sydney Morning Herald shared some survey results that showed me that we still have a long way to go.

They didn’t ask about what you might say or not say to someone struggling with their mental health, it asked about some specific actions, and the results were not good.

The negative response was highest where the other person had long-term schizophrenia: 62 per cent of respondents would not want to “make friends with someone with this problem,” while 84 per cent would not want to “have someone with this problem marry in to family” and almost all (94 per cent) would not want to “have them look after your children”.

Most respondents don’t even want to be friends with someone with this diagnosis, and for more common diagnoses like depression, the numbers were only slightly better:

Rates of negativity and ignorance were also high when it came to more common mental health diagnoses, such as depression, which would make 25 per cent of people unwilling to consider a friendship, 52 per cent concerned by a prospective family relationship, and 77 per cent unwilling to let the person mind their children.

Yes, we’ve gotten better at not openly hating people with mental health issues, but we haven’t stopped discriminating against them in our day-to-day actions. When we talk about being stigmatized by friends and family members, this is what we’re talking about.

I wasn’t outwardly discriminated against by my friends when I was going through the worst of my depression. No one showed up to talk about how I was faking it or making fun of me for being weak. No, that would have required them to still show up in my life. The stigma came in from all the people who disappeared from my life. The friends who didn’t want to be around me, and the boss who watched me like a hawk for any sign my depression might interfere with my work in ways he didn’t watch anyone else. That stigma is going to be much harder to root out. It requires people to learn about something they are uncomfortable even thinking about. It’s impossible to educate about something while also fearing it to the point of not wanting anyone with a mental health diagnosis around you and your family.

Or, apparently, your work and house, either.

Stigma extended to public policy issues, with 43 per cent of people believing job applicants should disclose any mental health issues, and 21 per cent arguing it was “reasonable for landlords to avoid leasing to a tenant with a mental health problem”.

That’s a whole lot of people in this survey who are not OK with those of us who have struggled with mental health being their friend, a family member, around their kids, in a job or renting a place to live.

That’s some severe stigma.


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