Erasing the Stigma of Mental Illness
Mental Illness does not discriminate on the basis of age, gender or socio-economic status. Many mental illnesses begin during childhood or the teenage years.
One out of five Americans will experience a mental disorder during their lifetime. But, people can get better. With proper treatment, most people with a mental illness recover quickly, and the majority do not need hospital care, or have only brief admissions.
Mental illness has traditionally been surrounded by community misunderstanding, fear, and stigma. Stigma towards people with a mental illness has a detrimental effect on their ability to obtain services, their recovery, the type of treatment and support they receive, and their acceptance in the community.
Exactly what is stigma? Stigma means a mark or sign of shame, disgrace or disapproval, of being shunned or rejected by others. It emerges when people feel uneasy or embarrassed to talk about behavior they perceive as different. The stigma surrounding mental illness is so strong that it places a wall of silence around this issue.
The effects are damaging to the community as well as to the person will the illness and his/her family and friends. But we at the South Carolina Department of Mental Health are working hard to erase the stigma associated with having a mental illness.
The emphasis now is on supporting and treating people in their own communities, close to their families, friends and familiar surroundings.
Yet discrimination and community misconceptions remain among the most significant barriers to people with a mental illness being able to actively participate in the community and gaining access to the services they need.
But it is not only people with a mental illness who experience discriminations and stigma. Rejection of people with mental illness inevitably spills over to the caregiver and family members.
Improving community attitudes by increasing knowledge and understanding about mental illness is essential if people with a mental illness are to live in, and contribute to, the community, free from stigma and discrimination.
The next entry will focus on the effects of stigma.
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