What is Self-Stigma?
What exactly is self-stigma? The type of stigma that we’re used to hearing about is public stigma, which involves prejudice and discrimination directed at a group from a larger population. But people less often know about and address self-stigma. This type of stigma occurs when we internalize these public attitudes and suffer negative consequences as a result.
When it comes to mental health and mental illness, people have experienced stigmas from these issues for a long time. The media and popular culture has often used harmful stereotypes and language to depict people living with mental illness. And it stems from a lack of awareness about the realities of mental health. Self-stigma around mental health includes negative attitudes and internalized shame that people living with mental illnesses feel about their condition.
Effects of Self-Stigma
There are many ways that self-stigma can negatively impact those of us living with a mental health condition. Here are just some examples:
- Adopting increased feelings of shame, self-doubt or low self-esteem.
- Feeling alienated, like others are incapable of understanding you.
- Applying harmful stereotypes to yourself. (Some may be that people with mental illnesses are violent, they can’t live a good life, they can’t do typical things like have a steady job or contribute to society, or they can’t make decisions on their own.)
- Increasing social isolation, or cutting off close relationships.
- Being reluctant to seek out treatment with the belief that it won’t help.
- Feeling discriminated against, ignored or not taken seriously.
- Expecting failure and engaging in self-sabotage, like refusing to take medication.
- Consistent negative thoughts.
- Feeling hopelessness, or even suicidal ideation.
How to Address and Overcome Self-Stigma
As you can see, there are a lot of negative ways that self-stigma can impact us. However, there are also many ways that we can address it and overcome it:
- Remember that you’re not alone. One in four Americans lives with a mental illness. There are many people out there going through the same struggles as us.
- Talk openly about mental health and speak out about stigma. Educate people around you on the realities of mental illness, including how common it is. Debunk any myths that people hold. Call out any discouraging remarks, kindly reminding them that their words hold a lot of weight.
- Alter your own stigmatizing beliefs. Learn more about your own mental health condition. Then focus on ways you can enhance your self-esteem, empowerment and help-seeking behavior.
- Seek support. Finally, get connected with your loved ones or with a therapist. A therapist can help provide support and tools to manage how you’re feeling about your mental health.