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The Stigma of “Diagnosis” in Mental Health: Why are people ashamed of getting help?

Us humans are fragile beings. Our health is the most sacred thing for us. It should be. Nothing comes first than health since it is the mane of our existence. However, like us, our health is fragile too. Even though we spend the majority of our lives being more healthy with all these diet cultures and the array of numerous ways to exercise. This can all even be defined as “toxic” when it reaches a certain point. So, at some point in time, we all have been diagnosed with something, whether it is the flu or something more serious. The diagnosis process has been a long discussion in the health sector. The reliability, the process, the follow-ups… When “health” is mentioned, physical health is the first thing that comes to mind; however, mental health is just as important for a human to continue their existence. We are alone with our minds daily, and their health should be discussed more. Even though a drastic increase in awareness of mental health since the COVID-19 pandemic, the “bad reputation” of mental illnesses has a rooted past. The bad reputation leads to a long-existing stigma around being diagnosed with a mental illness, even though it should be considered acceptable, normal and treatable as a physical condition. The reason behind the argument is "stigmatisation", as American Psychological Association defines it as "the negative social attitude attached to a characteristic of an individual that may be regarded as a mental, physical, or social deficiency”. Today we will look at where the stigmatisation originates from, how it affects a diagnosed individual and what can be done to minimise hardening one’s experience with a mental disorder.

According to the American Psychiatric Association, more than half of the people do not receive treatment or help for their mental health problems. This is a huge concern for two reasons. It is expensive. The number of professionals trained to treat someone with mental health problems is minimal. Thus, it makes the price of a session exceed reasonable amounts. Even financially stable individuals struggle with getting help. It is a “luxury” at this point, which is still necessary for our lives. The other reason is our topic of stigma. I am sure you heard yourself or other people say negative things about getting help for mental issues. You may hear, “I am not that weak”, “I can solve my problems on my own”, or “What would people think if they here I am going to therapy”. These phrases we are familiar with create a positive feedback loop for spreading negative attributions to therapy. The American Psychiatric Association divides these negative stigmas into public stigma, self-stigma and institutional stigma. These are all present simultaneously. Thus, it is crucial to understand the underlying motivations.

Starting with public stigma originates from people with mental illnesses being seen as dangerous and incapable. This led to the creation of certain stereotypes that affect a diagnosed person’s life, from getting employed to being able to choose a partner. Most people struggling with mental illnesses do not fit these dehumanising standards; however, the stigma surrounding them heavily affects them. This is a good place to go further into the “self-stigma”. When diagnosed with a mental illness, they unintentionally create a mindset that they are “flawed”. These existing stereotypes that are caused by the public stigma are internalised by the diagnosed people, which leads them to a bad place in the process of accepting the fact that “this whole thing is an illness such the physical ones, and there is nothing I can do other than try my best and get the best help I can get''. The last subgroup is the “institutional stigma” which is a systematic approach where the government or private organisations limit opportunities for people with mental illness. For example, this can be not employing and encouraging bringing people with mental illness back to society. It can also be separating a much lower fund to mental health research, closing the door for the improvement of quality of life for them.

What can we do to not feed into this stigma? It is important to realise that therapy and getting help for mental problems is a very intimate process, and it takes courage for a person to start this despite all the stigma. You may not feel comfortable with the intimacy it takes, or you may not feel the need to because you have other ways to cope. This is completely fine and encouraged. However, judging or looking down on someone for being able to gather their courage and access this extremely inaccessible therapy phenomenon is damaging to them and their help process. We all live in a society where we are constantly interacting with each other. One should not be shamed for improving their interactions and experiences with getting help. Let’s break this stigma in the new year of 2023.

Works Cited

"Stigma, Prejudice and Discrimination Against People with Mental Illness." American Psychiatric Association, Accessed 21 Dec. 2022.



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