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End the Stigma

With Kevin Love of the Cleveland Cavaliers recently discussing with his teammates and media about his panic attacks, I thought it would be timely to discuss the continued stigma of mental illness.

Stigma basically comes out of fear and lack of understanding, but the effects can lead to harassment, discrimination, and lack of support. Because of this, stigma prevents people from seeking help or getting treatment and, as a result, their symptoms become worse and more difficult to treat.

There are two types of stigma. One is social stigma, which includes the negative beliefs and prejudices the public has towards someone with a mental illness. This is still widespread. While the public may accept the medical or genetic nature of a condition and the need for treatment, many people still have a negative view of those with mental health conditions. The symptoms are still viewed as threatening and uncomfortable. People expect others to answer the question “how are you?” with “fine”, and mean it. If someone is uncomfortable socially, or appears distressed in a situation that most aren’t, then they will be “weird”, or even “self-centered”. The public also tends to blame the person for their condition.

The second type is self-perceived stigma, when the person with the problem doesn’t want to acknowledge it, or has an internalized sense of shame or weakness. I have often heard people say things like “I should be able to get over this, I’m a strong person”. Self-perceived stigma is reinforced by social stigma, as the person with the problem doesn’t want anyone to know they are suffering, and then the silence perpetuates the cycle. Stigma causes people to feel ashamed for something that is out of their control. Worst of all, stigma prevents people from seeking the help they need.

What can you do?

Educate people around you that mental illness is more common than people realize and speak out against stigma. If a family member or friend makes a disparaging remark about someone with a mental illness, educate them and have a no tolerance policy.

Talk openly about your own condition. Chances are you that once you start talking, others will join in.

Many celebrities have been discussing their mental health issues on many forums. This helps normalize the symptoms for others who might be afraid to seek help themselves. Don’t be afraid to say you have an appointment with your therapist or psychiatrist. No one would be embarrassed to talk about going to the dentist, but way too many are ashamed to say they see a therapist. Additionally, if you are having symptoms, bring them up with your primary care physician. They are often the front line in treatment, but many people are afraid of being judged or treated differently if they are open.

Go to organizations such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), which offers educational and supportive resources for people and families who are affected by mental illness. Another great resource is PROJECT 375, which was co-founded by NFL star Brandon Marshall after being diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. This group helps promote awareness of mental health, end the stigma, and raise funding for treatment.

Until we can stop this cycle of stigma, people will remain untreated, suffering alone needlessly.


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