A Look at Mental Health Treatment Stigma
To some degree, we're each aware mental health treatment is stigmatized, and that stigma is one of the barriers to people seeking professional guidance for mental illness and mental health struggles. What I don't think people would expect is how this stigma can also manifest in people's good intentions in conversations about mental health treatment.
How Mental Health Treatment Stigma Can Manifest from Good Intentions
A friend recently made a post to her social media about how would-be positive messages about people being glad she's "getting the help she needs" feel like mental health stigma to her. It's not something I had thought about, but as I read her post and chatted with her about it, it became clear to me how well-wishes and good intentions could manifest mental health treatment stigma.
Two phrases we can probably all agree can be used in a stigmatizing fashion against those with mental health struggles are, "Get help," or, "You need help." I can think of a number of ways these are used with a tone of disdain or dismissal to what someone is experiencing. In these contexts, the words come weighted with an undertone of, "Wow, you're really messed up."
With that in mind, it absolutely makes sense that the same negative undertone could be present in saying people are "getting the help they need" when they choose to go to treatment for their mental health. It automatically paints the treatment with the same stigmatizing brushstrokes, even though it's probably unintentional stigma.
As my friend and I were speaking, I also thought it was ironic how people will tell others to get help in one breath, but then because of the familiar stigma surrounding mental health treatment, people who do seek professional counseling or therapy may still be admonished for it. Unfortunately, it seems mental health treatment is clouded by stigma regardless.
Each Person Sees Mental Health Stigma Differently
It's important to note that people have different levels of sensitivity to mental health stigma. Some people might not be bothered by hearing others are glad they're getting help; just like I'm not bothered by the word "crazy," although I know many people are. In light of this, communication is vital, and I mean that for both sides of the conversation ("Communicating Effectively Is a Skill You Can Learn").
Those of us who deal with mental illness can't expect people to be psychic and know what bothers us. We need to speak up when we feel something is stigmatizing toward mental health, or in this case, mental health treatment, like my friend did. Her post shared with her circle how she prefers to hear "get well soon" rather than have people say they're glad she's "getting the help she needs."
For those we're sharing those kinds of messages with, I ask that you be receptive to the idea that each person sees mental health stigma differently. I know it's not easy to know what can help or hurt people, so when you're not sure, the best practice is to ask.
With this kind of communication, I'm confident we can reduce stigma, whether we're talking about treatment or mental health in general.
Barton, L. (2020, May 4). A Look at Mental Health Treatment Stigma, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, December 3 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/survivingmentalhealthstigma/2020/5/a-look-at-mental-health-treatment-stigma