Let’s Call Mental Health Stigma What It Really Is: Discrimination

Society’s attitude toward psychological disorders needs to change.

By Lindsay HolmesDeputy Healthy Living Editor, The Huffington Post

09/27/2016 08:15 am ET | Updated 1 hour ago

This article has been reposted from it’s original source, The Huffington Post.

 

It’s no secret that there’s a veil of shame surrounding mental illness.

Nearly one in five American adults will experience a mental health disorder in a given year. Yet only 25 percent of people with a psychological condition feel that others are understanding or compassionate about their illness, according to the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

Typically, we refer to this dissonance as stigma, but we have been wrong to do so. The negative stereotypes that shame those with mental illness and prevent them from seeking help don’t just constitute stigma ― they’re discrimination. It’s a blatant, prejudicial outlook on a certain population.

The societal outlook on mental illness doesn’t just result in negative stereotyping, as the term “stigma” implies, says Kana Enomoto, principal deputy administrator of the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. It results in behavior and policy that actually make life more difficult for those with mental health challenges.

“We [at SAMHSA] don’t use the word stigma,” Enomoto said last week at a National Press Foundation gathering of mental health-focused journalists. “You look the word up in the dictionary and it refers to a mark of shame.”

It is certainly true that people with mental illness are taught to feel shame ― to believe that they have a character deficiency that is disgraceful, “all in their heads” or something to just “get over.” But the way we collectively treat people with mental illness goes far beyond that.

People with a mental illness are more likely to encounter law enforcement than get medical help during a psychological crisis. There are currently more people with mental illness in jails and prisons than in hospitals. They’re blamed for violencewhen they’re more likely to be the victims. They have higher rates of homelessness. They’re seen as a danger to society, to other people, to themselves.

The Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights defines discrimination as something that “occurs when an individual is treated less favorably than another person in a similar situation for a reason related to a prohibited ground.” In other words, when a person is mistreated or regarded differently than someone else based on their circumstances.

When it comes to mental illness, doesn’t that sound familiar?

 

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