Mental health has been a very controversial topic for a long time. In many societies, discussions on mental health and related conditions are still considered taboo. Historically, psychological illnesses were associated with black magic and demonic possessions. People also thought some people were just ‘crazy’ or ‘lunatics’. They presumed these people were dangerous, so they were sent away to asylums, where they were put together with criminals.
Initially, they were not provided with any treatment, as mental health issues were never considered illnesses that needed treatment. Some types of treatment began to surface later, but most were invasive, painful, and based on ignorant beliefs instead of medical science.
Since the history of mental health is so horribly tainted, some such ideologies and concepts have also transferred to modern societies. As a result, many people still feel ashamed of visiting a psychologist. They fear disclosing their mental health status to people because they fear they will be judged or discriminated against.
In this article, we will discuss some of the most common stigmas and discriminatory behaviors related to mental health that are still prevalent and their impact on the wellbeing of mental health patients.
What is a stigma in mental health?
The term stigma is literally defined as a stain, mark or imperfection. However, in connection to mental health, the meaning of this term refers to marking or labeling someone in a negative sense based on their mental condition. For example, calling a person psycho, crazy, lunatic, etc.
People who suffer from mental illnesses may experience various kinds of stigmatization — They could be treated unfairly, given a bad image, or made to feel ashamed or undeserving, as if they were less than others. Stigma may lead to discrimination, which can make mental illness worse.
Stigma arises due to misunderstandings, false information about mental disorders, and some people’s unfavorable opinions or beliefs (prejudice). This could lead to discrimination against those who have mental illnesses.
What are the different types of stigmas?
- Public stigma is a type of stigma due to which people’s perceptions about mental health become negative or discriminatory. As a result, their behavior and attitudes toward patients become demeaning and rude.
- Self-stigma refers to the stigma that a patient becomes a victim of by thinking negatively of themselves. Such people feel ashamed of their condition and do not want to talk about it publicly because they feel no one would understand them. This leads to low self-confidence and low self-esteem.
- Institutional stigma is the stigma that influences how public and private organizations make decisions and limit possibilities for people with mental illness, and it is becoming more and more ubiquitous. For instance, there may be less funding for research into mental diseases or fewer mental health programs compared to other medical treatments.
Several diverse racial and cultural communities struggle with the stigma associated with mental illness, which can make it particularly challenging for individuals of those communities to access mental healthcare. Not only do those with mental diseases themselves suffer from stigma, but their loved ones — often even including entire families — also endure severe hardships.
Stigmas that still impact mental health patients
Below are some of the most common stigmas that are still associated with mentally challenged individuals:
Mental health patients are incapable, unproductive and lazy
Mental health problems often leave people emotionally and physically drained. Prolonged stress, anxiety and depression use up all an individual’s energy and time to do anything productive. Symptoms of different mental health conditions also involve sleeping all day as a coping mechanism, which can cause people to attach labels and stigma to these individuals. The truth is that these individuals are constantly fighting a battle within themselves to just get out of bed each day. They need a lot of motivation and support to achieve the smallest things in life, which they do not choose for themselves.
Mental health patients are unreliable or dangerous.
Some severe mental illnesses might cause people to behave in an unexpected way. They might show signs of risky or questionable behavior, but it is not fair to fit everyone under the same umbrella. It is important to understand that almost all mental health conditions vary drastically in intensity. Two people with ADHD might exhibit entirely different behaviors.
Similarly, one patient with Schizophrenia might be completely different from another patient who has the same illness. Since the human brain is such a diverse organ and every human being is different from one another, it should be understood that not all mental health patients are the same. Labeling or making them feel out of place will only adversely affect their condition. It is very important to understand this fact to promote inclusivity.
Mental health patients are a burden on society
Unmanaged mental health disorders can surely lead to poor quality of life, unneeded handicaps, substance misuse, unemployment, homelessness and improper imprisonment. However, it is wrong to assume that mentally ill patients are a burden on society. Some people mistakenly feel that they are dangerous or that being around such people can negatively impact them. While the truth is that people with mental health issues are more likely to injure themselves or be assaulted than to harm others.
Mental health problems have become so prevalent that it is quite possible that one out of every 25 Americans is either suffering from, or will suffer from, a serious mental health issue at some point in their life such as schizophrenia, bipolar or major depression. However, this does not mean that they are a burden on society in any way. It would be more appropriate to say that mental health illnesses are a burden on society rather than the individuals who are suffering from them, as these are two different things.
Impact of stigmatization and discrimination against mental health patients
Stigmatization and discrimination against the mentally ill can impact them in three different domains of life: psychological, social and professional. Each of these is described below in detail.
As highlighted above, individuals suffering from mental health conditions are almost always preoccupied mentally, leaving them psychologically, emotionally and physically drained. Stigmas and discrimination further fuel the fire and seriously harm their self-esteem and self-confidence.
Stigma may make it challenging to seek therapy or even to complete it. Moreover, some individuals may acquire additional symptoms, such as anxiety or sadness, due to stigma.
The potential to overcome a mental health problem may even be hampered by self-stigma. Higher levels of self-stigma, according to research, were linked to a slower rate of healing from psychological disorders.
Stigma around mental health can have a significant impact on the social life of an individual. Fear of being called names and attracting unnecessary negative attention, people with mental health conditions might resort to isolation and avoidance of public places.
Individuals with mental health issues may be the victims of bullying, harassment or even physical assault. It may also be challenging for those who live with these diseases to trust people or form relationships with others when they have a judgmental perspective of mental disorders.
A harsh reality that mental health patients experience is discrimination and stigma in the professional world. Although many individuals struggle to land a well-paying job to secure their future and earn a decent income (e.g., women, the LGBTQ community and handicapped individuals, etc.), individuals with mental health illnesses remain among the most discriminated against in this regard.
Professional stigma can reduce prospects for advancement at work and for students to succeed in school. Individuals who have mental health issues may find it challenging to complete their academic or professional commitments, particularly if they struggle with their peers, professors, coworkers or superiors.
Who are mental health nurses?
In response to the increasing burden of mental health illnesses, a new field of nursing has surfaced called mental health nursing, or psychiatric nursing. These professionals are registered nurses with at least a master’s degree in psychiatric mental health nursing. To learn more about how to pursue a career in mental health nursing through online education, click here.
The main duty of a mental health nurse is to ascertain the mental health needs of particular patients, groups, families and communities. Creating a care plan and assessing the success of the patient’s therapy may be required. Potential treatment options include any relevant therapies, including psychotherapy and prescription medications.
Hospitals, private practices, jails, community centers and businesses are among some of the main institutions where mental health nurses are appointed for their services. Mental health nurses are interested in creating new policies and promoting legislative change in addition to providing direct care to their patients.
Skills necessary to become a mental health nurse
To become a successful and competent mental health nurse, an individual must possess a certain set of skills and qualities. These include:
- Compassion and empathy for mentally ill patients.
- Non-judgmental thinking and an unbiased attitude toward the mentally ill.
- At least a master’s level education in mental health nursing.
- Superior communication skills.
- The ability to endure work-related pressure and perform well even in stressful situations.
- A pleasing demeanor.
- Strong ability to solve problems.
- The capacity for autonomous work.
- Exemplary time management skills.
- Patience and stamina.
The role of mental health nurses in reducing stigmatization and promoting acceptance
Mental health nurses not only cater to the needs of patients suffering from various mental illnesses but also put a lot of effort into policymaking to bring positive change in our society. Their qualifications and hands-on experience with patients give them the opportunity to participate actively in this process. In short, these professionals perform the following tasks to make life easier for individuals suffering from mental illnesses:
- Identifying dysfunction, monitoring and evaluating improvement, and assisting individuals in regaining or enhancing their coping skills.
- Delivering psychoactive drugs while assisting in the management of their negative effects.
- Fostering elements and conditions that aid in preventing future impairment.
- Encouraging overall wellness and supporting self-care practices.
- Delivering and overseeing psychobiological therapy protocols.
- Delivering health education, including psychoeducational support for crisis management or intervention.
- Providing fundamental therapy, such as advice or other forms of interpersonal assistance.
- Acting in the capacity of a case manager to assist and coordinate treatment with other medical professionals.
Apart from these, mental health nurses also invest a lot of their efforts into creating awareness about mental health illnesses among patients, their families and the general public. They educate patients and families about the specific mental health issues they are struggling with, what to expect and how to deal with the symptoms.
Through developing a therapeutic nurse-client relationship, nurses may lessen stigma and defend the needs and dignity of their patients. In all contexts, a therapeutic nurse-client connection is crucial, but it is more crucial in the field of mental health, where the therapeutic bond is viewed as the cornerstone of patient care and recovery.
All nurses must develop caring, compassionate interactions with their patients, even though nurse generalists do not anticipate specialized psychiatric-mental health nursing treatments.
Mental health nurses do not only help the patients directly, but they are always working to make life easier for their patients through indirect efforts, such as creating awareness about mental health issues among the masses. This is extremely important because discrimination against mental health patients can only end through proper education. As a result, people in general become more accommodating and accepting of those suffering from mental illness. Moreover, this approach helps eliminate all the stigmas attached to mental illness and provides a chance for mental health patients to get the same number of educational and professional opportunities and lead a normal life.
In conclusion, mental health nurses play a vital role in providing care and support to individuals experiencing mental health challenges. They possess a unique set of skills and expertise that enable them to help patients manger their symptoms and improve their overall quality of life. Their contribution to the field of mental health is invaluable. With their unwavering commitment and expertise, mental health nurses are making a positive impact on the lives of countless patients.