Let's Call Mental Health Stigma What It Really Is: Discrimination

It’s no secret that there’s a veil of shame surrounding mental illness.

Nearly one in five American adults will experience a mental health disorder in a given year. Yet only 25 percent of people with a psychological condition feel that others are understanding or compassionate about their illness, according to the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

Typically, we refer to this dissonance as stigma, but we have been wrong to do so. The negative stereotypes that shame those with mental illness and prevent them from seeking help don’t just constitute stigma ― they’re discrimination. It’s a blatant, prejudicial outlook on a certain population.

It is certainly true that people with mental illness are taught to feel shame ― to believe that they have a character deficiency that is disgraceful, “all in their heads” or something to just “get over.” But the way we collectively treat people with mental illness goes far beyond that.

People with a mental illness are more likely to encounter law enforcement than get medical help during a psychological crisis. There are currently more people with mental illness in jails and prisons than in hospitals. They’re blamed for violenc ewhen they’re more likely to be the victims. They have higher rates of homelessness. They’re seen as a danger to society, to other people, to themselves.

People with mental health conditions are treated differently than everyone else. People with mental health conditions are treated differently than everyone else.

Look at the narrative from politicians. They use terms associated with mental illness as mudslinging insults. They blame mental health disorders for national tragedies. There’s even pushback and debate when it comes to mental health reform.

Tackling the unfavourable outlook surrounding mental health starts by encouraging more people to talk about it openly. Otherwise, as research shows, people won’t seek the medical support they need ― support that can lead to recovery. Untreated mental health conditions can lead to a loss in productivity, poor sleep habits and withdrawal from social situations.

Ultmately, it’s more than just changing hearts or minds ― it’s about getting to the root of the problem by fixing systemic issues. That means more mental health training for first responders, more policies that help people with mental illness get the care they need from medical professionals and more workplace acceptance and initiatives that support individuals dealing with a psychological issue.

Of course, not everyone is a legislator or a company CEO or can implement more programs for first responders. But an average citizen can lend their voice. One way to start small is to by calling out the judgmental viewpoints surrounding mental illness by labelling them exactly what they are: intolerance for a group of individuals. By addressing this outlook in a more pointed way, people may take it more seriously, Entomoto said.

Because you’re not just dealing with a mark of shame, you’re dealing with discrimination. Full stop.

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