Mental Health Stigma: Challenging Your Comfort Zone

April 2, 2014 Mike Ehrmantrout

I want to tell you about my neighbors. That is, I would tell you about my neighbors if I knew any of them. Now partly, it's a societal change. Many people just aren't neighbors anymore in the classic sense of the word. Oh sure, we'll wave across the fence, but that's pretty much it. I've lived in the same house for 14 years now.

The reason I don't do the neighbor thing is because I don't want them to know me.

I Don't Want Them to Know I'm Mentally Ill

Knowing me means knowing I'm mentally ill. I don't want people to know because I'm afraid if they know, they might use it against me. Or hate me. Or hurt me. It's the paranoia that can come with combat posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Mental Health Stigma

I think this is an example of reacting to the stigma our society has regarding mental illness. Even though we've come so far in our understanding of mental illness, even today the stigma remains.

Stigma is borne of ignorance. It's non-understanding of mental illness that causes people to believe stereotypes. The stereotypes cause some people to be afraid of those in their midst who carry around a psychiatric diagnosis. Like other groups who are minorities, some people even think the mentally ill shouldn't have the same rights as everyone else.

For example, the terrible rise of mass shootings has caused many in our society to say certain people with mental illness shouldn't have the right to even own a firearm.

Even the National Rifle Association, which fights against nearly any type of policy that negatively effects gun ownership, is on record supporting the denial of gun rights to the mentally ill by creating a database that would most certainly impinge upon the privacy of mentally ill people.

While mental health stigma is seen in aspects of society, we can actually add to it accidentally. Read how people with a mental illness can perpetuate stigma.Please understand, this article is not about the gun debate in America. Rather, it's unfortunately just one instance where we see our society is engaging in stigmatization. The discrimination over gun rights could be just the beginning.

As mentally ill people, we rightly fight against mental health stigma. But sometimes we find we are the ones perpetuating stigma! Back to the neighbors. They aren't the ones hiding in their house because I'm mentally ill. I am!

By doing so, I can unwittingly reinforce the stereotype of the “crazy guy next door.” We don't want to do anything that adds to the stigma we all face. It's somewhat paradoxical: I don't want my neighbors to know I'm mentally ill. My reticence is due to stigma, but my avoiding them because of it can serve to bolster the stigma.

Mental Health Stigma and Moving Out of Our Comfort Zone

Being on the mental health recovery path often challenges us to move out of our “comfort zone.” Our personal recovery is more important than fixing society's wrong attitudes. But we find these two concepts inexorably linked because we, as mentally ill people, are part of the society we wish to change. We have seen how our personal recovery can affect societal beliefs about the mentally ill. Are you perpetuating stigmatic stereotypes by staying in your comfort zone? Maybe I'll talk to my neighbors about it.

APA Reference
Ehrmantrout, M. (2014, April 2). Mental Health Stigma: Challenging Your Comfort Zone, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 18 from

Author: Mike Ehrmantrout

Dr Musli Ferati
April, 25 2014 at 8:07 pm

Mental health stigma remains an uncivilized obstruction to satisfied and complete psychiatric treatment of mental disorders. The main reason for this grave situation in public opinion is our misconception on real nature of mental illness. As others somatic diseases, mental disorder indicates a disturbance of brain as organ of our mind. This fact should be explain by understandable way, in order to accept the need of comprehensive mental health care to everyone, everywhere and at everyday basis. This concept is in concordance with your observation that stigma is repercussion of ignorance. On the other hand, your suggestion to challenge stigma by active relationship along recovery to any mental ill patient exhibits good and hopeful approaching. In this direction, the contribution of relevant sociocultural factors would be of significant importance. Prejudices and stereotypes on mental pathology should be disproof by concrete actions, not only by scientific discoveries. The top intention of current psychiatric treatment must be the rehabilitation and resocialization of any psychiatric patient in its native social environment, without atavistic prepossessions.

Perri Morrison Smith
April, 13 2014 at 1:50 am

I live in a small community in a small town. The last break from reality had my neighbors rescuing me from a terrible psychotic episode because they all knew me. That is so embarrassing . . Your first responders are your neighbors! I did come out of it - but the neighbors always remember That time when . .

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Mike Ehrmantrout
April, 13 2014 at 4:33 am

Thanks for your comment, Perri. Haha that would be an issue when your neighbors are first responders and they know your medical information already. I guess that's what I'm saying is that if you desire to have a relationship with these people, they will eventually find out about your mental illness just by being around you. The choice is whether you want to stay completely isolated from others in order to keep them from knowing you. Since we know isolation can be dangerous, we have to find some way to find the balance between privacy and openness. It isn't an easy thing to do.

April, 12 2014 at 7:26 am

I think keeping them at a distance is best. I don't think you should feel the need to disclose your personal medical information to your neighbors. They have no need to know of your personal medical information. They would not tell you theirs! Unless PTSD comes up in a conversation, there is no need to discuss it, and still no need to discuss the type of PTSD that you have. You are not perpetuating stigma, you are just plain living in your own home. :) Maybe the neighbors on the other side might be better

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Mike Ehrmantrout
April, 13 2014 at 4:24 am

Hi FLJ. thanks for your comment. You make some really good points. I'm not really talking about discussing your private medical information. What I'm saying is that when someone gets to know me, it's obvious just through my lifestyle that there's something different and it definitely does come up eventually if I wish to maintain a relationship with the person.
I couldn't agree with you more, though, that we must be protective of our own private medical information. I limit that to a "need to know" basis.

Mike Ehrmantrout
April, 7 2014 at 4:27 pm

City, Panicked,
Thanks for your comment.
It sounds like you've been through alot. Those psychotic states sound scary.
It's interesting how you describe your change in thinking about it. You practiced good self-care by considering that you deserve to have a better life.

City, Panicked
April, 7 2014 at 6:53 am

I know a thing or two about this. I have a variety of diagnosis but unfortunately, will have a rare psychotic break. I live in a four unit building and they ALL had the pleasure of witnessing my last break with reality - and me being loaded into an ambulance.
The first two weeks back from the hospital, I hid. Much to my dogs' chagrin, I hid. But finally one day I woke up and told myself I really couldn't hide anymore and have any quality of life. If they have questions I will happily answer them but in the meantime, I want them to see what mental illness looks like when it is under control. I want them to know ME.

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