We can improve the outlook for mental health in our families, communities, and across the nation by reducing the stigma that prevails today. We can be successful at making this happen in 2023 by gaining personal knowledge, awareness, educating others, and by supporting mental health care.
What is Mental Health?
We cannot begin to reduce the stigma that surrounds mental health without absolute knowledge of what mental health is.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA) describes mental health as including our, “emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act, and helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.”
Mental health is crucial to every stage of life, per SAMSHA, starting with childhood, through adulthood.
One of our member CSBs, Western Tidewater Community Services Board (WTCSB), notes in their blog post “What IS Mental Health, Really?” that society does not fully understand mental health, and this leads to harmful misconceptions.
It is a common myth that mental health problems are caused by personality weaknesses or character flaws and that if people try hard enough, they can simply will the condition away. This is not true. Putting a bandage on mental health only covers up any issues. What is under the bandage must be treated.
WTCSB lists some of the most common groups of mental disorders:
- Mood disorders (depression or bipolar disorders)
- Anxiety disorders (generalized anxiety, obsessive-compulsive, panic, post-traumatic stress, or social phobia)
- Personality disorders (antisocial, avoidant, borderline personality, narcissistic, obsessive-compulsive, or paranoid)
- Psychotic disorders (schizophrenia, delusional, or drug-induced)
- Eating disorders (anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating, pica, or avoidant/restrictive)
- Trauma-related disorders (acute stress, uncomplicated PTSD, complex PTSD, comorbid PTSD, or reactive attachment)
- Substance abuse disorders (the use of opioids, hallucinogens, alcohol, marijuana, nicotine, sedatives, or stimulants)
Mental health problems are often contributed to risk factors such as genes or brain chemistry, life experience (such as trauma or abuse), or family history of mental health problems.
Facts on Stigma
Stigma is an unfair mark or judgment against a person, or persons, due to negative beliefs that society or communities have about something (e.g., mental health and illness).
More than half of people with mental illnesses do not receive help for their disorders, or they delay seeking help, per the American Psychiatric Association (APA). This is due to concerns about being treated differently, or fearing the loss of a job or livelihood, due to stigmas, prejudice, and discrimination against mental illness.
Per the APA, there are three main types of mental health stigmas:
- Public stigma involves the negative or discriminatory attitudes that others have about mental illness.
- Self-stigma refers to the negative attitudes, including internalized shame, that people with mental illness have about their condition.
- Institutional stigma, is more systemic, involving policies of government and private organizations that intentionally or unintentionally limit opportunities for people with mental illness. Examples include lower funding for mental illness research or fewer mental health services relative to other health care.
What We Can Do to Reduce Stigmas
Reducing the stigma of mental health in 2023 starts with us, as individuals and advocates. At the roots, it begins with how we communicate, the words that we choose, and the mindset that we develop that overpowers shame and judgment.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) offers some practical recommendations on what we can do as individuals to reduce stigma:
Talk openly about mental health
Share in-person or on social media.
Educate yourself and others
Share your personal story about mental health. Share your knowledge about mental health and treatment. Continually learn about mental health.
Be conscious of language
Be responsive to negative or discriminatory language and attitudes regarding mental health by sharing facts.
Encourage equality between physical and mental illness
Be prepared to compare mental treatment, or mental wellness care, to the treatment and wellness care of the physical body.
Show compassion for those with mental illness
Practice empathy and try to understand what someone might be going through.
Choose empowerment over shame
“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
The literature review, Public Stigma of Mental Illness in the United States (Parcesepe and Cabassa, 2013), suggests focusing away from catch-all categories (e.g. mental illness) and pointing toward the causal attributions and treatment of specific mental disorders. This goes hand-in-hand with NAMI’s suggestions to talk openly about mental health, educate yourself and others, and be conscious of the language that you and others use when talking about mental health.
Be an involved advocate in your community
NAMI Coastal Virginia offers local programs and events that support mental health and diminish stigma. Search for your local NAMI organizations and affiliates here to find support, education programs, and events in your community.
NAMI Coastal Virginia also believes in the power of advocacy to diminish the strongholds that stigma has on mental health care, “Advocate. It’s time to take the barriers down and give individuals living with a mental health condition a voice. Take the opportunity today to get involved in the legislative process. You can make a difference.”
View recent advocacy rallies and efforts in Coastal Virginia, and find local, state, and national contact information here.
Region Five believes that DEI programs are very important to diminish racism and discrimination in the community to improve health care. Our DEI program was born out of a strong commitment to create responsive, safe, and anti-biased health environments for all of our community members. Health is a human right, and no one should have their needs neglected or their experiences invalidated.
Help Is Within Your Reach
You may have felt the sting of the stigma that paying for mental health care is a luxury. Please ignore this misconception. We pride ourselves on accessible and equitable mental health care for all our community members. Here are 5 Ways to Pay for Mental Health Counseling.
Our Region Five Community Service Boards (CSBs – Chesapeake, Colonial Eastern Shore, Hampton Newark, Middle Peninsula Northern Neck, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Virginia Beach, and Western Tidewater) are available with same-day access and peer support. Visit our CSB page for more information.
If you need help today, or any day, 24/7, call our crisis line at 757-656-7755. If you have a 757 area code, you can also reach someone by dialing or texting 988.