Mental health stigma is unfortunately not uncommon in American society, because many people misunderstand mental illness. Unfortunately, stigma is a serious issue for many who are affected by mental health conditions. The stress from stigmas can affect their ability to recover as much as actual mental illness symptoms.
Why Mental Health Conditions Are Misunderstood
Mental health stigmas are based on the following misunderstandings:1
- People believe that those with mental health problems are dangerous, particularly individuals with schizophrenia, alcohol abuse problems or drug dependence issues.
- People believe that some mental health problems, such as eating disorders, are self-inflicted.
- People believe that those with mental health problems are generally hard to talk to.
Mental Health Stigma and Stress
Society’s commonly held beliefs can make life stressful for people with mental illness. Stress is defined as the psychological perception of pressure and the body’s physical response to that pressure.2
When people suffering from mental health conditions have added stress from the stigmas they’re experiencing, they should seek professional help so that stress doesn’t add to or exacerbate existing symptoms. Psychotherapy can help people with mental illnesses cope with the stress of mental health stigma.
How Psychotherapy Helps Tackle Mental Health Stigma and Stress
Self-Stigmas: Psychotherapy is beneficial in helping a person identify and work on the stress that comes from self-stigma. People with mental health issues may impose stigmas on themselves, where they feel different or disgraced, and these feelings can cause stress. By attending therapy, these types of self-imposed stigmas can be discussed and addressed.
Perceived Stigmas: Another benefit of therapy is changing the perceptions that the person has internalized due to a mental health stigma. How a stigmatized person perceives public stigma, as well as other personal factors, can determine whether they view the stigma as stressful. When a person views a stigma as greater than their perceived coping resources, stress levels rise. A therapist helps an individual experiencing stress and stigma by decreasing the level of perceived stigma and its consequences, thereby reducing stigma-related stress.3
Rejection Sensitivity: When rejection sensitivity is reduced, it reduces stigma’s impact on individuals.4 Therapists can help people cope with mental health stigma and stress by helping to reduce sensitivity to rejection. People can be highly sensitive to rejection due to their mental health conditions, and lowering these sensitivities therapeutically reduces stress.
Healthier Attitudes: Another way of tackling stress due to mental health stigmas is adopting healthier reactions toward those expressing stigma-related attitudes. Working with a therapist helps stigmatized people change their views, and chalk up other people’s negative attitudes as prejudiced and uninformed. These changes in perception helps those dealing with mental health issues avoid the stress that can come from stigmas.
If you’re dealing with the stress of a mental health stigma, discuss it with a therapist. If you aren’t in therapy, seek out help from a mental health professional, even if it’s just to deal with the stress. Stress can be harmful in and of itself, and learning to change your perceptions of stigmas, as well as gaining better coping skills, can make your life less stressful and more rewarding.