“Sadly, too often, the stigma around mental health prevents people who need help from seeking it. But that simply doesn’t make any sense. Whether an illness affects your heart, your arm or your brain, it’s still an illness, and there shouldn’t be any distinction…We should make it clear that getting help isn’t a sign of weakness – it’s a sign of strength – and we should ensure that people can get the treatment they need.”lawyer, writer, mother, former first lady, role model and advocate
When you think of a person with a mental illness, what or who do you think of? Do you immediately think of positive aspects, like creativity and understanding? Or maybe your first thoughts are apprehensive and unsafe. These negative attitudes towards people with mental illness are called stigmas.
Stigmas can apply towards oneself, about a stranger or friend or at an institutional level.
The American Psychiatry Association identifies three types of mental health stigmas:
Stigma can lead to discrimination. For example, a property owner may hold a negative stigma about mental health. They could act on this in a discriminatory way by not renting to a person who discloses a mental illness. This type of treatment can result in decreased opportunities, harassment and violence, barriers to accessing quality health treatment and can contribute to the worsening of a person’s mental health.
Mental illness affects people of all races, genders, life experiences, etc. One in five Americans have a form of mental illness, but less than half receive treatment, according to the American Psychiatric Assocation. The fear that others may find out is one of the top reasons a person does not seek treatment for their mental health.
Even though mental illness can impact anyone, as we discussed in Day 7 on Community Health, the health care system is largely inequitable and plagued by systematic racism and oppression. Because of this, access to quality care is largely dependent on a person’s ZIP code or the ability to pay high premiums through insurance. This creates a scenario where many communities populated with people of color are more impacted by mental illness, but remain undertreated.
The inequity within mental illness widens when we factor in the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, 11 percent of Americans reported symptoms of anxiety or depression. In January 2021, this number skyrocketed to 41.19 percent. The U.S. Census Bureau indicated that within this spike, BIPOC communities were disproportionately affected.
Today’s challenge will encourage you to learn more about the stigma associated with mental health and the importance of breaking that stigma. We will also look closer at inequities in access to mental health treatment.