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Definition of Stigma and Misconception

STIGMA
A set of negative and often unfair beliefs that a society or group of people have about something.

Example Sentence: There's a social stigma attached to individuals who suffer from a mental illness.


MISCONCEPTION
a view or opinion that is incorrect because it is based on faulty thinking or understanding.

Example Sentence: Public misconception believe that people with a mental illness are crazy and can never get better.

Source: Merriam-Webster's Learner's Dictionary



Throughout history, there have been social stigmas, typically started as a popular misconception. For example, when AIDS gained notoriety in the nineteen-eighties, there were a number of social stigmas gripping the United States. At first, many people believed you could catch the virus if someone carrying the virus touched you. If someone carrying the virus made a visit to your home, after they left people would wipe down everywhere they touched using bleach to wash the areas. So many people were under the belief, that if someone carrying the AIDS virus used your utensils, a glass to drink from, or shook your hand, that you or a family member could catch the virus; it’s amazing how much we’ve learned. Yet, AIDS, mental health and many more are still surrounded by stigma and misconceptions.

 

  • Disabilities
  • AIDS
  • Obesity
  • Homelessness
  • Gender identity
  • Sexual orientation
  • Ethnicity
  • Religion

Becoming labeled by your illness brings a host of new problems such as shame, hopelessness, blame and misery. In many cases, individuals battling mental illness not only have to cope with the stigma surrounding mental illness in society, but may have to deal with friends and family members, who have already created their own opinion regarding mental illness. Many with inaccurate information come to the conclusion anyone with a mental illness needs to be strong, get out of bed, stop being weak and be normal like everyone else. Then instead of focusing on helping their love one with mental illness, they worry about their feelings and what people will think of them. Not understanding mental illness and afraid of the answers often times. They then turn to hurtful comments for example, “they are stuck to the bed”, “they're like a dog, eat and sleep”, statements that they and other family members think are funny. Not realizing their devastating a love one emotionally, and battling mental illness along with walking through hell on earth all alone, is not a battle many can win. Battling mental illness including depression, anxiety can make it easy to get knocked down quite fast and extremely difficult to get back up.

stigma mental healthWe have talked about stigma and misconceptions. Now I like you to reflect on the following two situations and try to recall if this has occurred in your life. Maybe you went to lunch alone or with another employee. During your lunch break, you decide on getting a cheese steak sub. As you’re walking, you notice a man wearing black boots, cutoff jean shorts, a white t-shirt and an American flag draped over his shoulders. The man is dancing, playing an air guitar. In another situation, a lady sits on the concrete begging for spare change. The lady is quite dirty. Her hair is matted and her clothes are not suitable for a human being. In any of the two situations or any moment, you may have come across an individual living on the street and suffering from mental illness. What did you think about the guy jamming on his air guitar? What words would have come out of your mouth? Did you or someone with you make the comment; “that person is crazy”, “they need to get a job”, “they are a stain on this community.” The next statement happens to be said most of the time. "They just want drugs or alcohol." This statement has a lot of truth to it. They use alcohol and drugs to self-medicate, attempting to ease the pain from their mental illness; but this is not the fix for mental illness. Actually. Drugs and alcohol will create more of a disaster than when they began this cycle. One last question; to avoid people like the homeless and addicts. Do you cross the street or walk another way to avoid them like the plague?

How can we confront stigma?

Everyone can have a major role in developing a community that supports mental health along with recovery, informative classes for family and friends; decreasing stigma and misconception and so much more. Simple ways to help build a strong mental health community include:

  • Learn and share the facts about mental health
  • Get to know people with personal experiences of mental illness
  • Speak up in protest when friends, family, colleagues or the media display false beliefs and negative stereotypes
  • Offer the same support to people when they are physically or mentally unwell
  • Don't label or judge people with a mental illness, treat them with respect and dignity as you would anyone else
  • Don't discriminate when it comes to participation, housing and employment
  • Talk openly of your own experience of mental illness. The more hidden mental illness remains, the more people continue to believe that it is shameful and needs to be concealed.

We're all strong........Together we're stronger...Much Stronger.

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