Stigma is defined as a mark or stain of shame. If a birthmark is visible, a stigma is an invisible mark. Simply put, self-stigma is a mark of shame that you put on yourself. It may also be a mark of dishonor with a particular experience. Stigma is created by societal changes that may make you feel like an outcast. It creates a feeling that you do not belong because you have something that’s not accepted by society. Those suffering with mental illnesses are stigmatized. The stigma they feel also worsens their condition.

What is Self-Stigma?

Self-stigma in people is identified as one of the most significant challenges in mental health, for it affects various aspects of life. Self-stigma occurs when you have dealt with a lot of discrimination because of a trait or illness you’re experiencing. You observe that colored people are stigmatized just by the trait they have — which is the color of their skin. Mentally ill people are stigmatized just because of one hospitalization notice.

Self-stigma happens when you’ve repeatedly witnessed how others treat people with traits or an illness that’s just like yours. When you’re part of the group with different traits or have some illness, you think to yourself that what you witnessed being done to the group you’re identified to be in, will happen to you too.

More than half of the individuals with mental health problems that are associated with self-stigma are not treated. This is because they think this is the way of life. It’s not. Breaking the stigma to ask for support is part of recovery. And usually, that’s the first step. Learn what is self-stigma and how to overcome it. 

Types of Stigma

According to the APA (American Psychiatric Association), despite the active anti-stigma campaigns for mental illness, it still is rampant nowadays, and this should stop. Expectations of rejection, perceived devaluation, and discrimination is the fear by individuals with mental illness. These negative attitudes by the general population may have implications for self-esteem, and this has just got to stop. 

Persons with mental disorders need professional psychiatric help. But they avoid this because of self-stigma. There are so many unmet needs of individuals who have a mental illness. There are different types of stigma, these are:

  1. Stereotypes

This is defined as a permanent and generalized idea about a particular group of individuals. When you are stereotyping, you conclude that a person who has certain qualities and abilities will have the same set of characteristics as everyone in their group. 

An example of stereotyping is when you associate motorcycle riders with big physical built, leather clothing, long hair, tattoos, and drinking beer all day. 

Stereotyping simplifies society for people. You no longer need to think long and hard when you meet someone new.  Thus, stereotyping eventually leads to prejudice attitudes.

  1. Prejudice

Prejudice is the irrational and unjust opinion or feeling about a person without giving enough thought or less knowledgeable information. Prejudiced individuals encourage negative stereotyping, which could influence negative reactions from others. Prejudice is related to conformity. Individuals who don’t fit into society’s definition of normal are likely to fall victim to prejudice.

A famous example of prejudice is from the book Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. The female protagonist formed a personal and negative opinion about the male protagonist with less information at hand. She has influenced the others around her. They, too, thought poorly of the male protagonist. But, of course, in the end, everything ended well.

  1. Discrimination

Discrimination is considered the most violent among all types of stigma. This is the behavioral type of public stigma where a person acts negatively and violently towards a group of people. What is the difference between prejudice and discrimination?

According to the study of Corrigan PW, the ability to differentiate public stigma and self-stigma are important to distinguish between discrimination and prejudice. Corrigan PW stated a prejudiced person has prejudiced thoughts towards a group of people. 

Their opinion could influence others but would not do anything physical to harm them. On the other hand, discrimination would encourage others to take action against a group of people and cause them harm.

After understanding the public stigma of mental illness and the differences between stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination, you now know the chain of views and reactions people with mental illnesses receive from others.

  1. Self-Stigma or Internalized Stigma of Mental Illness

People with mental illnesses living in culturally devaluing environments and with constant negative stereotypes may develop self-stigma, self-devaluation, have low self-esteem, self-efficacy and self-concept. 

People with mental illness may stereotype themselves as ‘ending up’ like what other people with that mental health problem have. This is not true because everybody heals and deals with it differently. 

For example, people with mental illness may be embarrassed or ashamed for others to know that they’re seeing a mental health care professional because of the public stigma. Furthermore, people with mental illness may blame themselves for having the mental health problem and that it has ruined their life, which is not true.

Stigma, Self-Esteem, and Self-Efficacy

When you talk about self-stigma and mental disorders, you also have to consider the Modified Labeling Theory. According to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), the Modified Labeling Theory of Mental Illness is when a person diagnosed with a mental illness is ‘wrongly labeled’ by society and this can foster negative feelings of the individual. 

Simply entering a psychiatric doctor’s clinic is a perceived stigma of having a mental health problem. Labeling a person negatively will lower their self-esteem and self-worth. 

Aside from the labeling theory, understanding the Why Try effect will further explain stigma and self. The Why Try effect is self-stigma associated. It affects a person’s self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is a person’s self-confidence that they can carry out a task successfully.

An individual with a severe mental illness may have low self-efficacy and will not pursue independent work and life opportunities. This leads to poor quality of life. If you have internalized the stigma of mental illness, you will try to avoid situations where you will be at a disadvantage. You don’t want to be ridiculed publicly. This is called social avoidance.

Stigma and Mental Health Care Services

At present, mental health services have three principles. These principles are societal reintegration, community inclusion, and recovery. All these three have one common goal. The objective is for the person to develop self-determined goals to better their well-being and mental health. 

The goals are designed according to the person’s interest may they be physically and mentally able or not. These interests can range from education, housing, health and wellness, relationships, and religion. Stigma harmfully affects the person’s goal attainment.

Management of Self-Stigma

Not everyone who has a mental illness agrees with the stigma. Some may accept it let it affect them in an unhealthy way. While some may question and go against the stigma. Those who accept and agree with the stigma will suffer greatly and will have reduced self-esteem and efficacy. Those who are against the stigma will be angry, stand up for what is right, and be non-stereotypical.

Empowerment improves a person’s quality of life and recovery from serious mental illness. Empowerment brings high self-esteem, self-orientation, and social support. People who set goals for themselves despite their mental illness will most likely have a positive future. They are more energetic and are hopeful for the success of their treatment.

Self-Empowerment is The Main Goal

The stigma will not go away. It will always be there whether or not you have a mental illness. The goal is for you to develop self-empowerment to better your chances of recovery and a bright future.

For treatment, it is important to determine the best care provider for you. When you look at help-seeking care, you should know both formal and informal sources of care.  

  • Formal help-seeking care is primarily provided by professionals such as psychiatrists, counselors, or therapists. 
  • Informal help-seeking care, on the other hand, is one you get from family members and friends. 

There is a negative association between formal care and stigma because persons with mental illness avoid being seen entering the clinics. They also feel that there is self-stigma reduction in informal care because family members, friends, and non-medical individuals are not judgmental.  

They feel obligated to help out. However, some people find informal care devaluing because this could start rumors and more stereotyping.

The individuals who are more inclined to seek formal care are women, older people, educated individuals, and divorced or separated couples. Those who prefer informal care are men, younger people, uneducated persons, and married or cohabiting couples.

Empowerment: Stigma and Mental Illness

Self-stigma is prevalent in whatever age, religious belief, ethnic group, or socioeconomic status. Self-stigma decreases your self-esteem, desire for treatment, and quality of life. Also, it increases severe symptoms and suicidal rates.

If you are living with someone who is mentally ill, educate yourself. They are human beings who are going through a hard time. If you understand their condition, you become more compassionate towards them. You should encourage empowerment over shame. They deserve to get better. They don’t deserve the humiliation.

If you are living with mental illness, don’t feel hopeless. Do not let other people become your barrier to recovery. You may experience discrimination from the people around you. But, being able to come out and let everyone know about your condition is worth it. When you accept your condition, that’s the time you allow yourself to get treated.

Challenge the Stigma

Challenge the stigma. Do not hide your mental illness. Don’t keep your treatment a secret. Don’t let the mental illness stigma get the best of you. The only journey that is worth taking is the journey within you.

Your journey is not lonesome and shameful. Kentucky Counseling Center (KCC) is your companion as you walk through your journey towards treatment and recovery. It is wonderful and comforting to know that you are not alone in the struggle. 

Remember, you are not the first to walk down this road. Many have gone before you and have reached the end of the road with a renewed spirit. KCC offers professional help that can provide you with the right itinerary for life. This is going to be an exciting journey. Book an appointment now!

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