Over 57% of adults with mental illness do not receive the treatment they need. This means that over 26 million people dealing with depression, anxiety, and other diagnoses go untreated each year. This problem is especially prominent in the South. There are a few potential explanations for this lack of clinical intervention. One of the most significant obstacles to mental health care is stigma. Due to the negative public perception of mental illness, people may choose to keep their symptoms secret from friends and family. However, there is a bright side. Recent research indicates that the stigma surrounding depression is lessening over time.
There are three primary types of stigma about mental illnesses. Researchers differentiate between public stigma (others’ attitudes about mental health), self-stigma (internalized shame about one’s own condition), and institutional stigma (systematically limited opportunities for people with mental illness).
Stigma may be subtle or overt. Eventually, it may result in the development of prejudices and discrimination. An example of public stigma escalating to discrimination would be the belief that someone is dangerous or to blame for their condition. Over time, this can result in discrimination such as job loss, denial by landlords, and poor quality of health care.
There are various factors that contribute to negative attitudes about depression and other conditions. First, media depictions may cause people to associate mental illness with danger or law-breaking. Consider films like The Silence of the Lambs or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. These popular movies have shaped the opinions of millions of people. Additionally, one’s culture may dictate the way each person responds to mental illness. Some groups believe mental health problems to be a sign of weakness, while others’ distrust of the medical system prevents access to care. Regardless of its origin, stigma may be harmful for countless mentally ill individuals.
The Effects of Stigmatized Depression
According to an extensive literature review, there are many direct and indirect effects of widespread stigma. One study indicated that self-stigma served as a predictor of poor recovery potential over time. Other effects include:
- Difficulties at school or work
- Hesitation to seek treatment
- Interpersonal issues
- Reduced adherence to one’s treatment plan
- Troubles advancing at school or work
- Worsened symptoms of mental illness
- Reduced self-esteem
- Difficulty functioning
- Isolation from loved ones
- Lack of hope or self-efficacy (ability to make a change)
- Threat of physical violence, bullying, or harassment
Stigma is Declining
Fortunately, depression and other mental illnesses are less stigmatized now than ever before. This is partially because of a shift in the way people address their conditions. Celebrities have opened up about diagnoses of anxiety, PTSD, depression, ADHD, and other conditions, paving the way for openness among their fans. Young adults and teens dealing with symptoms of mental illness have begun turning to the internet. An estimated 75% of young people sought to find personal stories about dealing with mental health struggles.
There are steps that we can take to contribute to this encouraging trend. According to NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, we should strive to:
Openly discuss mental illness. Keeping one’s struggles a secret only contributes to alienation and mystery around one’s diagnosis.
Gently educate and correct others (and yourself). You’ll definitely run across problematic phrases and thoughts as you seek to dispel the stigma of mental illness. Don’t be afraid to (gently!) call someone out and explain why their wording isn’t the best.
Be honest about therapy, medication, and treatment. Whether you are enrolled in a treatment program for substance use disorder or attending therapy for depression, being open about your experience can help others to seek professional intervention.
Choose your words wisely. Phrases like “crazy” and “so ADD” are commonplace in popular culture, but they can add to the stigma of mental illness.
Compare mental illness to physical illness. The brain is an organ – a body part. Sometimes pointing this out to people can help them to understand that a mental health issue is similar to a physical health problem. This comparison helps to lessen the stigma of these conditions.
Help for Dual Diagnosis
Cumberland Heights offers proven treatment for those dealing with substance use disorder and co-occurring mental illnesses. Our evidence-based approach addresses all aspects of one’s mental and physical health. Over time, our clients learn healthy coping mechanisms, unravel their trauma, and overcome their symptoms. To learn more about our treatment for depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses, contact our admissions team today.