Dealing with Stigma

The information provided here is not a substitute for medical treatment or psychological care. It is strongly recommended that you talk to your personal physician and a competent mental health care professional in the community.

Steps to deal with Stigma

Do you worry about what someone might think if you need or receive mental health help? Despite all the advances we’ve made in understanding and accepting mental health conditions, we still have a ways to go to overcome some of the perceptions and fears people have about mental health and the stigma these attitudes create.

Stigma is the negative reaction people adopt against a person or group who appears different from us. The fear of stigma can have the detrimental effect of discouraging individuals and families from seeking help when it is needed.

According to a recent Healthy Minds Study 2009 Report, A Report of Mental Health and Access to Care among Virginia College Students, more needs to be done to change perceptions of stigma than addressing actual prejudices against those with mental health disorders.

The study found that Virginia college students report feeling that others have more negative feelings and opinions about people who seek mental health treatment than they do themselves. Most students report that they would accept someone as a friend if they were receiving mental health treatment, but most students also felt that others would not. Students also seem to perceive that the stigma surrounding mental health issues is high; with more than half stating that they think others in their community would think less of someone who had received treatment for mental health issues. However, the major of students in this study reported that they themselves would not feel this way.

So…here are some things you can do to deal with stigma, adapted from recommendations by the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research:

  • Get treatment. Don’t let the fear of being “labeled” with a mental health condition prevent you from seeking diagnosis and treatment. Diagnosis and treatment can provide relief by identifying what’s going on in concrete terms, and by reducing symptoms that interfere with your school, work, and personal life.
  • Learn to accept your diagnosis. Counseling may help you to gain self-esteem and to cope with your reaction to others’ bias or your own self-judgment.
  • Seek Support. It can be hard to decide who to tell, if anyone, and how much to tell. If you tell people you trust, you may find much-needed compassion, support and acceptance. Because stigma can lead to social isolation, it’s especially important to stay in touch with family and friends who understand.
  • Remember that you are not an illness. Instead of saying “I’m depressed” or “I’m bipolar,” say “I have depression” or “I have bipolar disorder”.
  • Get Help at school. Discrimination against students because of a mental health condition is against the law, and educators at the college level are required to provide appropriate accommodations. These accommodations are based on documentation provided by your health care professional’s evaluation and recommendations. At BRCC, the Disability Services Coordinator can meet with you to review your documentation and assure that you receive the support and necessary accommodations to access your college classes and events.
  • Join an advocacy group. Some local and national groups, such as the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) and Active Minds Programs offer support and information to help you cope with your condition.

Groups/Organizations

NAMI Harrisonburg-Rockingham (Local Chapter)

Meets on the 1st Tuesday of the month at 7:00 p.m. PHONE: 434-8761
Location: Summit House, 1888 Pear Street, Harrisonburg, Va.
No Meetings in July or August

Active Minds, Inc.

Phone: 202-332-9595
2647 Connecticut Ave NW, Suite 200
Washington, DC 20008

From the Active Minds website: “Active Minds is the only organization working to utilize the student voice to change the conversation about mental health on college campuses. By developing and supporting chapters of a student-run mental health awareness, education, and advocacy group on campuses, the organization works to increase students’ awareness of mental health issues, provide information and resources regarding mental health and mental illness, encourage students to seek help as soon as it is needed, and serve as liaison between students and the mental health community.

Through campus-wide events and national programs, Active Minds aims to remove the stigma that surrounds mental health issues, and create a comfortable environment for an open conversation about mental health issues on campuses throughout North America.”