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What Makes Mental Health Stigma So Hard to Change?

Mental illness refers to a significant change in thinking, behavior, and emotion caused by several factors, including but not limited to psychological trauma and environmental stress. It can affect anyone and range from phobias to severe conditions like schizophrenia that may require medical attention in a hospital. Mental illnesses, if severe, can cause life-threatening situations.

It can result in family conflicts, difficulties in creating and maintaining relationships, legal and financial problems, and harm to self or others. Before reading the chapter and watching the video, I considered mental illness prevention and management a simple process. However, this perspective has changed after understanding the implications of stigma on mentally ill individuals and the whole process of dealing with mental illnesses.

Stigma is a barrier to help-seeking intentions and behaviors such that an affected individual feels discouraged from revealing their mental health status for fear of potential discrimination. At the macro level, mentally ill people get neglected because of the association with violence, shame, and families’ fear of social disgrace (Suppes & Wells, 2012). It explains why most families struggle to hide mentally ill members and impede them from seeking help.

Other factors associated with public stigma include lack of knowledge and negative attitudes. At the micro-level (self-stigma), people suffer numerous negative consequences after internalizing the community’s attitudes towards their condition that might result in isolation, a decline in self-esteem and confidence (TEDx Talks, 2016). These reinforce feelings of exclusion and social withdrawal because the affected individuals feel isolated, embarrassed, and hurt by those around them.

Social workers could lead the way in identifying and addressing factors that cause stigma. Social workers should advocate for the elimination of stigma associated with mental illness, recognize outreach services as a crucial part of mental health services and collaboratively involve family members in assessment and treatment planning (Suppes & Wells, 2012; Barker, 2013). In terms of skill set, the most crucial skill needed by a social worker is compassion.

They could also advocate for community-based mental health services and educate the public about the illnesses. The government has a responsibility to protect mentally ill people in workplaces, schools, and in treatment. Increasing the number of mental health professionals could reduce the ratio of provider/client and improve the quality of care. As the cases of mental illnesses continue to grow, it is essential to encourage the affected people to come out and seek treatment.

From the series, I feel that it is conceivable to afford better treatment for mentally ill individuals if we eradicate stigma and its root cause. The series has furnished me with a clear understanding of how everyone’s effort in helping those around us could be indispensable to those suffering in silence. Even the desire to know someone’s welfare could be a significant gesture for their coming out to seek help if they have a mental illness.

Barker, R. L. (2013). The social work dictionary. N A S W Press.
Suppes, M. A., & Wells, C. C. (2012). The social work experience: An introduction to social work and social welfare. Pearson Higher Ed.
TEDx Talks. (2016). Imagine There Was No Stigma to Mental Illness | Dr. Jeffrey Lieberman | TEDxCharlottesville [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WrbTbB9tTtA

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