Mental illness and physical illness differ in one clear way. If someone has a physical illness, such as the flu, you often seen their symptoms. For instance, you might see them sweat, hold their stomach, have a pale face, and/or even feel hot to the touch. However, with mental illness, it’s rare that you would see a symptom of theirs – unless you know what you’re looking for, such as a psychologist might. Mental illness remains hidden from view. You can’t necessarily see depression or anxiety or mania. If you didn’t know someone all that well, you might judge them for being too slow, not intelligent enough, or too anxious. You might wonder what’s wrong with them. You might ask yourself, “Why aren’t they normal?”
Although many people suffer from mental illness, you often won’t know it until they tell you. If someone has a broken arm, it’s clear to see what might have happened – perhaps they were in an accident. However, with mental illness, it’s hard to know what’s going on, or worse, how to help if you wanted to. Furthermore, mental illness can lead someone to behave in a particular way, which might make others uncomfortable. And when other people feel uncomfortable that could lead to judgment, unfair treatment, or marginalizing people.
Stigma might be defined as the mark of disgrace that is associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person. For instance, a teen with bipolar disorder might suffer from the stigma of mental illness. Stigma typically exists among the general public about those things it does not understand – and mental illness continues to be a facet of life most teens and adults do not understand.
What’s sad is that someone can even stigmatize themselves. Teens might feel marginalized or stigmatized upon hearing a diagnosis for a mental illness. They might fear the judgments of others and even judge themselves. And alongside that, friends, peers, and even adults might also stigmatize a teen for having a mental illness. Fortunately, there are ways to prevent against the stigma of mental illness. They are described below:
Education – This is the most effective way to prevent or reduce stigma. For instance, teaching others about a particular psychological illness, its symptoms, and how it can be treated fosters understanding and acceptance.
Develop Awareness – In addition to education, it’s important to help people become aware of their preconceived ideas, prejudices, and judgmental thinking. It’s easy to develop these in life. However, becoming aware of them can help people let them go once they realize that their preconceived ideas are not true.
Be a Model – When someone devotes their time and energy to supporting those with mental illness, it gets the attention of others. Others might begin to realize that there is nothing to judge or fear about mental illness, especially if they see a friend or family member modeling acceptance and understanding.
Include Everyone – Whether you’re having a party, a school event, or a public gathering, it’s important to include people from all walks of life, including those with a mental illness. Inviting them to participate sends the message that they are welcome and accepted.
Stigma can be silently harmful. However, with the right amount of education and modeling by teens, parents, teachers, and mental health professionals, it might eventually cease to be a burden for those with mental illness.