Destigmatizing Mental Illness

May 26, 2019
Destigmatizing mental health goes beyond politics and law. In order to do it, everyone should try to debunk some of the most common myths.

Psychological well-being is often associated to very negative myths. That’s why destigmatizing mental illness isn’t an easy task. You should first start by questioning your own thoughts about mental health. Then, once you overcome the stigmas and the myths linked to it, you’ll see everything from a healthier and judgment-free point of view.

It’s about basically not focusing on mental illnesses and their negative characteristics. To do this, you must approach these situations in a way you’ve never done before.

But first, let’s define what destigmatizing mental illness means, who’s a key component in the process, the challenges that come with it, the origin of stigma, and how to encourage destigmatization.

Destigmatizing Mental Illness

Destigmatizing mental illness means looking at it from a new perspective. It’s basically trying to see mental health in a different way. 

Therefore, destigmatization means giving mental health the importance it deserves while recognizing the disorders associated with it from another point of view.

A frustrated woman covering her face representing destigmatizing mental illness

The Origins of the Mental Illness Stigma

The mental health stigma has developed over time through several different mechanisms. In fact, the stigma is the result of fears, myths, and stereotypes that made it acceptable to discriminate those who suffered from any mental illness.

Even in ancient times, people set mental health apart from other health issues. Mental illnesses were often perceived as negative (for example, people associated it to demons possessions). However, other times it was linked to being a genius or an artist.

Nowadays however, people still look down on those who suffer from mental because of those ancient myths.

On the other hand, physical health has always been more visible. But now society is slowly discovering how important psychology is when it comes to physical health issues and how the two are related. Furthermore, according to the World Health Organization, health is composed of psychological, social, and physical well-being.

Thus, nowadays many other health organizations have tried to preach the importance of mental well-being as a fundamental aspect of overall health. That’s how people’s perspective on mental illness has progressively changed.

The Challenges of Destigmatizing Mental Illness

In order to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness, we should start by debunking some myths:

  • Mental health isn’t important. Health is multidimensional. If you pay attention to each one of its components, your quality of life will improve.
  • Everyone who suffers from a mental illness is a genius. This myth comes from a time where people believed that madness was a sign of intelligence.
  • People who suffer from a mental illness are aggressive, unstable, and dangerous. Although mental disorders do affect behavior, emotions, and thoughts, not everyone with a mental disorder has these traits. Although they may have a hard time controlling their behavior sometimes, it doesn’t happen all the time, nor with every disorder. Mental illness can affect people in different ways.
  • Mental health doesn’t affect physical health. Several mental health aspects can impact physical health, since the two are strongly related. A clear example of this is stress.
  • You are your illness. People often label a person with an illness as if it were part of their identity. They don’t see past their depression or schizophrenia.

These myths, born out of ignorance, can end up encouraging discrimination, either because mental illness is seen as something you should be afraid of or because it isn’t deemed important.

What Can You Do about It?

What can you do to help destigmatize mental illness?

  • Work on your empathy. Put yourself in other people’s shoes to see what they’re going through. Don’t just believe in stereotypes and prejudice.
  • Be open to learning more. Looking beyond what you first thought about the issue, being open to new perspectives, and trying to understand how mental illness works may prove helpful.
  • Teamwork. By working with other people from different fields of expertise, you’ll be able to see health from a multidimensional perspective.

The biggest challenge might even be just seeing people who suffer from mental illness as normal. Another thing you must understand is that health is a global concept in which different factors play a role. Therefore, you should try to avoid just believing other people’s opinion in order to help debunk the myths.

A depressed man in a therapy session.

Who Can Help the Most?

  • Organizations. By running campaigns that help reduce the risk of mental illness and promote mental health, implementing new laws and policies, and working with the affected community to understand the issue.
  • People who suffer from mental illness and their families. By promoting mental health as an important matter and debunking myths about it.
  • Mental health professionals. By explaining to people what mental health truly is.

Promoting Mental Health

In order to reduce the stigma, you could intervene in different settings such as:

  • Media. The goal is to promote the concept of mental health from a more realistic and positive perspective.
  • Diagnosis. Reasonably using diagnoses to avoid stereotypes.
  • Healthcare. Promoting effective healthcare for mental illnesses.
  • Support systems. To clarify and debunk some myths and to offer proper treatment to people who suffer from mental illnesses.
  • Taking legal measures. To fight mental health-related discrimination and violence.

Although it’s important to use politics and pass information down properly, these measures don’t guarantee long-term changes. That’s why each person should start by trying to better understand and support people with mental health issues. Destigmatizing mental health is a collective effort.

  • Balasch, M., Caussa, A., Faucha, M., & Casado, J. (2016). El estigma y la discriminación en salud mental en Cataluña. Barcelona: Apunts.
  • López. M. Laviana, M. Fernández, L., López, A., Rodríguez, A. M., & Aparicio, A. (2008). La lucha contra el estigma y la discriminación en salud mental. Una estrategia compleja basada en la información disponible. Revista de la asociación Española de neuropsiquiatría, 28 (1), 48-83.