Mental health stigma is real. We have all heard about how important it is to maintain good mental health. The tips and advice that are available online are endless. We get it. Avoid and prevent mental illness.
Although mental illness is certainly not something that we want, we cannot help it sometimes. Some days, the challenges are insurmountable, problem after problem just keeps on coming, and the world seems so cold. It is only natural that some of us are more vulnerable to mental health conditions.
The National Health and Morbidity Survey conducted by the Ministry of Health revealed that one in three Malaysians older than 16 years old has a mental health condition. These statistics were even more severe in states such as Sabah, Sarawak, Kuala Lumpur and Kelantan. People with mental health conditions are all around us. Yet, there is still a stigma around it. We may think that by not judging those with mental health conditions, we are not stigmatising them. However, did you know that we may still be secretly playing a role in it?
Types of stigma
First, let us understand what kind of stigma there is:
- Public stigma. These are the perceptions that people generally have about mental illness. For example, having the thought that people with mental illness are weird, unpredictable and a burden.
- Self-stigma. This is the stigma that we impose upon ourselves. For example, thoughts that we are incompetent, at fault, or inferior.
- Institutional stigma occurs when institutions like an organisation, company, and department impose policies or rules that intentionally or unintentionally disadvantage people with mental health conditions.
What propagates and keeps stigma alive in our society? Public stigma propagates through movies, especially those that depict mental disorders in a violent, scary way. You may remember movies like Split (2016) and Joker (2019). It should be reminded that these movies are meant for entertainment. They show dramatised, unrealistic depictions of mental disorders and may not be factually accurate. Irresponsible gossiping about mental health conditions in a person also serves to not only “label” it as hush talk, but also adds to the self-stigma of those who have mental health conditions that such topics should not be talked about in public.
When mental health conditions are stigmatised, it damages not only the affected individual, but society and institutions as a whole. Studies have shown that self-stigma can exacerbate symptoms in affected individuals, leading them not only to show worse symptoms, but also lead to a longer recovery process and less effective treatment.
Fighting against stigma
So what can we do to reduce stigma?
- As individuals, we can talk openly about mental health. Educate ourselves more about it, and share it in person and on social media.
- Be more aware of the language that we and others use in our daily lives. They are powerful tools that positively or negatively impact others.
- Choose to be empowered – refuse to let others dictate how to feel. There is a lot less stigma on physical illness, so why should mental illness be stigmatised?
Together, let us overcome this stigma and nurture an environment that acknowledges and appreciates the importance of mental healthcare.
“I fight stigma by choosing to live an empowered life. To me, that means owning my life and my story and refusing to allow others to dictate how I view myself or how I feel about myself.”Val Fletcher
I’m Steven, MY Psychology KK’s intern,
With you, MY Psychology KK.
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