Mental health is an important issue in our society, yet a significant stigma remains attached to it. Some people think that mental health is “all in the head” and don’t believe it is a real issue. This stigmatization of mental health is often seen in the language people use to describe it; for example, someone might make a joke about someone being “crazy” or “nuts” when referring to their mental state, without taking into account the real emotions and struggles they may be facing.
Likewise, many still use words like “schizophrenia” and “depression” as insults without understanding the real implications of these conditions. This attitude can be damaging for those suffering from mental illnesses, as it leads to feelings of shame and fear of talking openly about their condition. It further delays the help they need since they become too afraid to speak up and get help, perpetuating a negative mental health connotation.
One in four people reported feeling embarrassed by their diagnosis. In contrast, one-third experienced negative reactions when they disclosed their condition to others – indicative of how pervasive this stigma is in our society today. It takes a collective effort to break down this stigma and create an accepting and understanding environment for those struggling with mental disorders.
Throughout history, research has helped people understand mental health better and can be an effective tool in dismantling stigma. But the problem is that people are not engaged enough with this research due to their complexity and language. As mental health advocates, it is our responsibility to communicate mental health research in a way that reduces stigma and encourages open dialogue.
In this article, we are breaking down what stigma is, along with practical techniques that you can use in communicating mental health research to reduce shame and encourage help-seeking behavior.
Mental health stigma is when people think of mental health problems negatively. It can look like this:
- Making jokes about someone’s mental state.
- Using words like “schizophrenia” or “depression” as insults.
- Experiencing negative reactions when sharing their condition with others.
- People feeling embarrassed or ashamed of their condition.
The effects of stigma can be severe, as it prevents people from getting the help they need. It also perpetuates a negative connotation about mental health and encourages silence – instead of open dialogue – about the issue. The first step in dismantling stigma is to recognize it in ourselves and in others. Here are some of its common forms that you need to be aware of:
This is when society holds negative attitudes, beliefs, and feelings toward people with physical and mental illnesses. It can manifest in various settings, such as work, school, and social relationships. An example of public stigma would be using words such as “crazy” or “nuts” to describe someone struggling with mental illness.
When an individual internalizes the negative stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination associated with their mental health issue, it is known as self-stigma. An example might include avoiding seeking help due to thoughts like “I am weak for having this problem” or “No one will understand me.”
When family members prioritize the secrecy of a mental health disorder over seeking help and understanding, this is known as familial stigma. An example might be when a father tells his son not to talk about his depression out of fear that it will affect their reputation in the community.
This stigma can be seen in the media, such as in movies or TV shows. It often portrays people with mental health issues in a negative light and reinforces stereotypes about them. An example might be a movie depicting someone with schizophrenia as violent or unpredictable.
Refers to exclusionary policies in areas such as education, housing, and job opportunities that prevent those struggling from accessing the resources they need to thrive. For instance, employers may not hire individuals with a past history of mental illness due to misconceptions about their ability/competence at work which can further perpetuate other forms of stigma surrounding them in society.
The idea is that labeling things like “mentally ill” affects how people perceive themselves and others around them who have been labeled similarly, in turn creating a negative view of mental health issues.
Origins of Mental Health Stigma
The mental health stigma we face today is rooted in centuries of social conditioning, discrimination, and religious teachings. Historically, people with mental health conditions were seen as “possessed” or “cursed,” leading to them being ostracized from society. Unfortunately, this has led to a deep-rooted stigma that can be found in societal attitudes, stereotypes, and misconceptions. Let’s take a look at what they are:
The belief is that mental illness is a character flaw rather than a medical condition. For example, people may think someone with depression just needs to “snap out of it” or that you can control anxiety if you take a deep breath.
Stereotypes are assumptions about people with mental health conditions, such as being “dangerous” or “unpredictable”. These ideas often come from the media and can be perpetuated by those who don’t understand the complexities of mental illness. This can lead to an individual feeling ashamed and embarrassed, making it harder for them to get the help they need. An example would be someone avoiding going to therapy, thinking that they will be judged or seen as “crazy”, and thinking that people with mental health problems are stereotyped as such.
Misconceptions are beliefs about mental health that are not based on factual evidence or scientific research. They can be false assumptions, outdated ideas, and a lack of knowledge. An example might be the misconception that people with depression are “lazy” or that people with anxiety are “weak”. It is important to note that mental health issues can affect anyone, regardless of age, race, gender, or socioeconomic status.
As you may have observed, the mental health stigma originated mainly from a lack of knowledge and information. We must change that by educating ourselves and others on the facts and recent research. But when you think of it, those have been available for years, yet people are not engaging with that information despite knowing they are important.
And one reason for that is that research insights could be hard to understand, which is why they have not been used effectively to break down the stigma. That’s why we need to start using new strategies that could make this easier and more accessible for everyone and normalize mental health treatment.
Communicating Mental Health Research
One way to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health and normalize mental illness treatment is by communicating accurate mental health research more understandably. Now that we have identified the different forms of stigma, let’s discuss techniques for communicating mental health research that helps to reduce shame, talk openly, and encourage help-seeking behavior.
The Role of Language in Shaping the Perception of Mental Health
The language we use is critical when it comes to discussing physical and mental illness, including physical health and mental health. It’s crucial to watch our words and phrases, as negative language can damage and perpetuate stigma. Instead, opt for more positive and accurate terms such as “child with autism,” “a person with bipolar disorder,” and “people with mental illness” instead of saying “that autistic kid,” “bipolar,” and “mentally ill people” – just like how we do not call a person with diabetes, “diabetes.” This makes the person feel more respected and less of a label.
Another thing about language is that it can be a powerful tool to shape the way people think and perceive mental health. For example, replacing phrases such as “mentally ill person” or “mental disorder” with terms such as “a person with mental health concerns” or “mental health issues” will help to create an environment of acceptance and understanding for those dealing with mental health problems.
Evidence-based messaging and framing techniques are essential in creating a culture of acceptance towards any mental health condition. If done correctly, such techniques can help break down the stigma by communicating accurate mental health research that challenges misconceptions and stereotypes surrounding mental illness.
Evidence-based framing is a communication strategy involving research-backed messaging and framing techniques to convey complex or controversial issues to different audiences effectively. It involves using evidence to inform communication strategies, such as selected language, images, and other communication elements most likely to resonate with the target audience.
One example of evidence-based framing in mental health research is reframing mental health conditions as a common human experience rather than a personal weakness or failure. Research suggests that this framing can help reduce stigma by promoting empathy and understanding toward those experiencing mental health conditions.
Another example is using positive, strengths-based language that emphasizes recovery and resilience instead of focusing on pathology or illness. For instance, instead of using labels like “schizophrenic,” a more strengths-based approach would be to say “a person with schizophrenia.”
Evidence-based framing can also involve targeting specific audiences with tailored messages. For example, messages aimed at laymen may focus on the importance of self-care and mental health awareness. In contrast, messages aimed at medical professionals may emphasize evidence-based treatments or research. Messages aimed at employers could highlight the positive impact of workplace mental health initiatives on employee productivity, job satisfaction, and company performance. Meanwhile, messages aimed at policymakers could emphasize the economic benefits of investing in mental health services and programs.
Visual Aids & Storytelling
Visual aids and storytelling can be powerful tools for communicating mental health research. Visuals such as graphs, charts, and illustrations can help to make complex concepts more accessible and understandable. Photos of real people experiencing mental health conditions or engaging in self-care activities can also help to create a sense of empathy and understanding among viewers. For example, you can use a line graph to show the rise in mental health issues and the effectiveness of mental health treatment over time or create an illustration for teens to show the signs of anxiety or depression.
Storytelling is also a powerful tool for conveying complex information and sparking empathy. Sharing stories about yourself, your experiences, and your colleagues about mental health can effectively reduce stigma and promote understanding. The key here is to focus on resilience and strength rather than weakness or defeat.
For example, you can share your colleague’s experience with his client who has depression, the same condition your client is in. While telling that story, you can inject bits and pieces of the research you have gathered that supports the idea that depression is a common human experience and can be managed with the right support. Just remember to be cautious of ethics and privacy when sharing stories.
Break Stigma Through Effective Research Communication
By using these techniques in communicating research, your audiences’ perceptions and attitudes toward mental health can be altered. It could help them be more open to receiving these research insights without being too overwhelmed and defensive. Doing this creates an environment of acceptance and understanding for those struggling with mental health issues.
It’s a powerful way to break down the stigma surrounding mental health and encourage open dialogue on the subject. We must continue to share accurate research information in a clear, accessible way so that people can better understand mental health and how it affects individuals and our society.
While Mental Health Awareness Month brings much-needed attention to mental health advocacy, we must promote it daily. Apply these techniques the next time you create a blog, newsletter, or social media post, or have a conversation with your client! By doing this, you would ensure that they can benefit from those research insights and get the best mental health care possible with evidence-based practice.
It’s up to us to educate ourselves about mental health and create an environment that encourages open communication and understanding for those seeking help. We all have a role in dismantling this stigma to lift each other up and create a more inclusive society for all.
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