In the many cultures, mental illness is not recognized as an illness rather a person with mental illness is considered to be bewitched or demon-possessed. These cultural challenges have made it harder for people living with mental illness to not only find medical care but to face stigma as well.
A family with a mentally ill person often feels ashamed and embarrassed and do not even want to be known that they have a mentally ill family member.
Mental illness is just but an illness of the mind and is treated able and manageable with medication, psychotherapy and moral support from loved ones. In Kenya, for example, you will see so many mad people on every street. In fact, the saying, every village has a madman must have originated from Kenya. This goes to show that there are very many untreated mentally ill people not to mention neglected
This is evident by the few numbers of hospitals and medical institutions that treat mental illness as well as how shockingly full these hospitals are. The government has not paid much attention to people living with mental illness as they have with people living with disabilities in the recent past.
With these, cultural challenges and lack of awareness, stigma is unavoidable.
Stigma happens when a person views you or treats you in a negative way because of a distinguishing trait that is thought to be of a disadvantage. Simply put, you are viewed and treated negatively because you are not “normal”.
Stigma comes with a lot of effects to people with mental illness such as:
- Denial. Refusing to accept that they are sick and need medical help thus making the situation even worse. The perception people have of mental illness makes it hard for people to come to terms with the fact that they are mentally ill. This is obviously because of the stigma that comes with mental illness especially in areas where people are still culturally and religiously absorbed.
- With stigma comes less awareness since people do not want to talk about it, so many people actually don’t end up getting help. Stigma has made it impossible for people with mental illness to seek more information about their condition. This is also true for their families and friends; awareness and education on mental illness has not been successful because of stigma. Yet, stigmatization would only end if mental illness was a more understood condition.
- Stigma makes mentally ill people not to be understood by their loved ones when in the actual sense all they need to get well is to be understood and loved
- Because of stigma, people have been abandoned completely and left to “waste off” yet with the treatment they would live a completely normal life. This is evident from the number of mentally ill street people commonly referred to as madman or madwoman. These are people who have families and could lead a better a life if only their families didn’t neglect them
- Stigma makes them unable to fully relate to people. Already, people with mental illness tend to isolate themselves because they feel out of place. This even becomes worse when they are stigmatized. They become loners making them unable to lead their lives fully.
- They are denied opportunities at work, school and even in social activities making it hard for them to reach their potential, become productive people in the society as well as fulfill their life’s purpose.
- Stigma makes them lose hope in life, lose confidence and even the urge to succeed in life. Losing hope in life is the worst thing when you see no reason to continue living is when suicidal thoughts fill your mind. This is true for a mentally ill person, that is why a large number of suicide cases are from mentally unstable people. The current statistics indicate that 2 out of 3 people who commit suicide have a condition associated with mental illness with depression being the leading cause.
How to cope with Stigma
- Accept your condition and get treatment. Does not let fear to be labeled as “mad” hinder you from seeking help as the illness can affect your personal life and even work or study.
- Don’t feel ashamed or embarrassed about being mentally ill. Look at it this way; there are people with bigger problems than your mental illness. Talk about it to make people aware and informed. With this, they will understand you better and treat you better.
- Find a social support group. Sharing the journey with other mentally ill people can raise your confidence and make you feel much more understood. Having a support group also makes you feel as though you are not alone.
- Don’t isolate yourself. You need people around you to help you go through the illness especially when you are totally not yourself. Be with people who love you and want to see you well like your family and friends.
- Differentiate yourself from the illness. You are not your condition so do not equate yourself to it. Just tell yourself that it’s the condition making you behave or act In a certain manner and that you will be well.
- Speak out against stigma. Be your own ambassador by telling off people who stigmatize you. Maybe all they need is to understand the condition for them to stop the stigma. Also, educating the public will help others who are scared to come out to find medical help and live confidently with their conditions.
The truth is not everyone will fully accept you even after educating them and making them understand your condition. That said, you are the one who will have to learn how to positively cope with stigma when it comes. Accept your condition and focus on leading a normal life. Take your medications as prescribed and attend your therapy sessions and you will not have to worry about episodes of mental breakdown. Let people learn from you that mental illness is just but a normal illness.