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HOUGHTON — Mental illness: a term that can carry negative connotations in areas throughout the United States, including the Upper Peninsula.

When people hear that someone is seeking help for a mental illness or a mental disorder — including substance use disorders — some can be quick to judge the person through the lens of their own perceptions and misconceptions about mental illness.

This is what is referred to as stigma or moralization.

Stigma, according to the Mayo Clinic (https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mental-illness/in-depth/mental-health/art-20046477), is when someone views a person in a negative way because the person has a distinguishing characteristic or personal trait that is, or is thought to be, a disadvantage or reflective of a negative stereotype.

Negative attitudes and beliefs toward people who have a mental health condition are common.

An article titled “Mental health: Overcoming the stigma of mental illness: False beliefs about mental illness can cause significant problems: Learn what you can do about stigma,” reports that stigma can lead to discrimination.

Discrimination may be obvious and direct, such as someone making a negative remark about a mental illness or its treatment.

It can also be unintentional or subtle, such as someone avoiding a person because they assume the person could be unstable, violent or dangerous due to their mental illness.

“You may even judge yourself,” the article states.

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 mental illness treatment.

– The belief that you’ll never succeed at certain challenges or that you cannot improve your situation.

Although addictions are also a mental health disorder, alcohol-dependent persons can face a greater stigma, as addictive disorders are less frequently regarded by the public as mental disorders.

Compared with people suffering from other, substance-unrelated mental disorders, alcohol-dependent persons are less frequently regarded as mentally ill, are held much more responsible for their condition, provoke more social rejection and more negative emotions, and are at particular risk for structural discrimination, according to a journal article titled “The Stigma of Alcohol Dependence Compared with Other Mental Disorders: A Review of Population Studies” that was published in “Alcohol and Alcoholism” in spring 2011. (https://academic.oup.com/alcalc/article/46/2/105/198339)

Only with regard to being a danger, they are perceived to be at a similarly negative level to that of people suffering from schizophrenia.

The article goes on to state, “Alcoholism is a particularly severely stigmatized mental disorder. Cultural differences are likely, but under-researched.”

The report, written by six coauthors, found in a survey in the United States that 88% of respondents judged someone with schizophrenia to represent a mental illness, while this figure was 68% for depression and 49% for alcoholism.

Neil Scheurich in his 2002 article, “Moral Attitudes & Mental Disorders,” (The Hastings Center Report 32, no. 2 (2002): 14-21. https://doi.org/10.2307/3528518) wrote that the stigmatization of individuals with mental disorders exists in three distinct forms:

“The first is an aversion to the mentally ill based on frank ignorance or misinformation, such as the widespread and mistaken perception that the mentally ill — and especially those with psychotic disorders — are uniformly unpredictable and violent.”

Scheurich described the second variety of stigma as more “insidious distrust and disgust toward the mentally ill,” marked by an opinion that such people are generally unpleasant to deal with.

“Based on a general parochialism rather than specific errors of fact,” he wrote, “This type of stigma is analogous to other interpersonal prejudices, such as racism, sexism and ageism.”

The third major type of stigma, he said, stems from philosophical objections to the notion of mental illness, which culminates in the moral attitudes referred to above.

“This attitude,” he wrote, “varies widely among individuals and with respect to the condition in question; Unsurprisingly, those with substance abuse disorders — but not those with schizophrenia or dementia — are commonly held responsible for their illnesses.”

Scheurich goes on to write that people with mental illnesses often lament the need to cope with family members and health care workers who believe fervently in the “power of positive thinking” or “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.”

Ignorance and prejudice, I have reported, are the two forms of stigma most commonly confronted by those with mental illnesses.

While many people deny stigmatizing those with a mental illness, Medical News Today (https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/mental-health-stigma#why-is-mental-health-stigmatized) reported that according to the Mental Health Foundation, nearly nine out of 10 people with a mental illness feel stigma and discrimination negatively impact their lives.

Those with a mental health issue are among the least likely of any group with a long-term health condition or disability to find work, be in long-term relationships, live in good housing, and be socially included in mainstream society, according to the organization.

The article goes on to state that stigma may not be obvious or be expressed with large gestures.

It can be present in the words people use to describe a mental health condition or people living with mental illness. This can involve hurtful, offensive or dismissive language, which can be upsetting for people to hear.

This can cause them to feel alone and that no one understands what they are going through. Some effects of stigma can include:

– Internalization of negative beliefs

– Social isolation

– Low self-esteem

-Hopelessness

– Shame

– Avoiding treatment

– Worsening symptoms

– Lack of criminal justice

-Discrimination at work

-Unemployment.

Everyone has a role in diffusing mental health stigma, according to Medical News Today.

One way to do so is to make sure people educate themselves about mental health issues and learn to better comprehend what life is like for those living with these conditions.

By doing so, they can help dispel common myths and stereotypes that are held by themselves and others.

“Through education and understanding,” the article states, “We can eliminate the stigma around mental illness, and there is support available to people who are currently experiencing stigma.”

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