It’s the beginning of a new year and the time when a lot of people like to make resolutions. Unfortunately, 80% of people don’t keep their resolution. Don’t want to be a part of that 80%? This year, consider a resolution to “help reduce stigma.” It might be one of the most rewarding resolutions and one that you can keep all year long. One of the ways to stop the spread of stigma, is by generating awareness about its harmful effects. To help reduce stigma, you must first learn what stigma is and how powerful this term can be when it is directed towards people.
According to the Mayo Clinic, a stigma involves negative stereotypes based on a distinguishable “characteristic or personal trait, that’s thought to be, or is, a disadvantage.” According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), there are over 43.8 Americans that face some source of mental illness. With this growing population, it is important to be educated and sensitive to the damaging effects of stigma against those experiencing mental illness.
There are two different types of mental health stigma – “social stigma” and “self stigma.” Social stigma is the way society perceives people with a mental illness or addiction. Ignorance or a lack of knowledge may cause one to believe false and negative opinions of mental illness and addiction. These beliefs may ultimately lead one to stigmatize others with that belief. However, educating yourself about the disease of mental health and addiction, you will come to realize that people with a mental health disorder are no different than a person that has diabetes, heart disease, cancer or any other physical ailment. Self stigma relates to the perception a person with mental illness views of their own self. They believe society’s image of them to be true. They internalize all the negative aspects of their illness and are ashamed to admit they have an illness. Unfortunately, self stigma can lead these individuals to resist help and treatment. Both stigmas are dangerous to individuals living with mental illness.
For many years, stigmas existed about cancer, heart attacks, stroke, and Alzheimer’s. But with more public awareness and understanding of these diseases, things began to change. Cancer survivors can now proudly refer to themselves as “survivors.” There are numerous campaigns for these diseases, and they are getting the recognition they deserve. While there is generally more awareness for mental illness and addiction these days, individuals experiencing mental illness and addiction are still not getting the recognition they deserve due in part to pervasive stigmas.
NAMI is a good place to start when looking for some great ideas to reduce stigma. They have many opportunities to help stop stigma including a stigma-free pledge you can take. You can also share your story, act on advocacy issues, hold an awareness event and join the walk for NAMI. Go to www.nami.org to find out to ways to help. Another organization is Bring Change to Mind (www.bringchangetomind), co-founded by the actress Glen Close and her sister Jesse Close. And of course, right here at Do No Harm Foundation there are many ways you can help spread awareness of stigma. Check it out on our website.