Stigma in all aspects of life has been talked about but what exactly is stigma. It’s always good to understand the origin or the root of the word to truly understand its meaning and appropriate usage.
The word ‘stigma’ has Greek origins and was later borrowed from the revised Latin word ‘stigmat’ which means to leave a mark or brand with a rod. In English, it was first used to describe a scar left by a hot, iron rod.
What is Stigma today?
It is a negative belief or lack of respect towards something; unfair beliefs about a person or group of people and their lifestyle that appear to be different. As the meaning of the root word suggests, it is a negative impression left on something based on limited facts.
It is a biased opinion caused due to:
- A lack of awareness
- Inadequate resources/ research
- Lack of understanding
- Social and cultural beliefs
We have discussed what is stigma, now let’s look at what mental health stigma is and how it is still prevalent today?
Mental Health Stigma is the discrimination or shame placed on mental illnesses such as anxiety, OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), PTSD (Post-traumatic stress disorder), depression, bipolar disorder, and others.
Shaming people that seek help for their mental health is also a type of mental health stigma. Society has often painted people with mental health illnesses as being violent or people with depression as lazy and those with anxiety as illogical.
The Dark History of Mental Illnesses
The past of mental illness has been tied to a very dark and inhumane practice. This was a result of superstition, religion, and a lack of scientific and psychological advancements.
Throughout history, mental illnesses were believed to be caused by demonic spirits and curses.
As early as 6500 BC, skulls were found in caves that were noted to possess surgically drilled holes. It was used to treat mental illnesses and injuries.
This practice was common in many ancient cultures and it is known as Trephination.
Early 14th century, as famine and plagues hit Europe, the biggest impact was seen on the Roman Catholic Church. In such treacherous times, the religious leaders ordered mass witch hunts to be carried out. Women who had mental illnesses were accused to be workers of Satan and burned at stake.
16th century onwards people who suffered from mental illnesses were removed from society and placed in mental asylums. Living conditions in mental asylums were horrible owing to poor hygiene. The patients were treated as vile animals; incapable of restraint.
Due to this tortured history, people still stigmatize mental health.
Harmful effects of Stigma:
- internalization of negative beliefs
- Isolation from friends and family
- low self-esteem
- avoiding treatment
- worsening symptoms
- discrimination at work and at home
Mental health stigma in Men:
Gender roles and societal expectations placed on men have deep impacts on a man’s mental health. Phrases such as “Man up” and “Boys don’t cry” are often used to shut down a young boy’s emotions and he is forced to learn early on that society does not allow men to openly express their emotions.
According to the Journal of Counselling Psychology, men who follow traditional gender norms are less likely to seek out mental health experts when they need them. They are also more likely to have poor outcomes from therapy or treatment when they do seek help due to their staunch beliefs.
Traditionally, men are expected to display traits that are mostly associated with manhood and masculinity, such as strength, power, and competitiveness, and less openly display emotion and affection.
Examples of mental health stigma in men:
- While women have multiple forums and platforms to open up and express their feelings, men who attempt to open up online or on any other platform are known to be shut down and told to man up about their feelings
- Men’s mental health is a topic that is often pushed aside
- Advocacy for men’s mental health is not as common as women’s mental health
- For men, responsibilities are placed at a higher value than their mental health
- Men are scared to show their emotions as they will be considered weak
- Bottled up emotions manifest in other harmful ways such as anger and shutting people out
Mental Health Stats in Men
- Over three out of four suicides are committed by men and suicide is the biggest cause of death for men under 35
- 12.5% of men in the UK are suffering from one of the common mental health disorders
- Men are nearly three times more susceptible than women to become alcohol dependent (8.7% of men are alcohol dependent compared to only 3.3% of women) [Men’s Health Forum, June 2016]
Mental Health Stats in Women
- One in five women (19%) experience anxiety or depression, compared with one in eight (12%) men. [Unknown Author, WOMEN’S MENTAL HEALTH FACTS, agenda]
- A study conducted by the U.S. Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch found that women service members were diagnosed with anxiety at a rate that was 1.4 times that of their male counterparts, and women in the survey were 1.9 times more likely than men to be diagnosed with depression. [Psychological Health Center of Excellence]
- At least one in five women suffered rape or attempted rape in their lifetime in India [Malhotra S, Shah R. Women and mental health in India: An overview. Indian J Psychiatry. 2015]
In a world that is moving forward towards advancements, with a young generation at the forefront of technological and social feats, stigma should be a thing of the past. Only through education and awareness can we solve today’s issues.