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Mental Health Stigma Amongst Youth

From Fear to Freedom: Overcoming Stigma, Shame and Hesitancy

Mental health stigma surrounds mental illness, and can cause fear, shame, and hesitancy when it comes to seeking help. But it’s important to know that you’re not alone. This article will explore the effects of these negative emotions on mental health and provide tips on how to overcome them.

Introduction to Mental Health Stigma

Mental Health Stigma is a blanket term that encompasses the prejudices, dismissiveness, and abandonment perpetrated against those who require or seek out mental health treatment. These individuals are labeled and/or socially separated due to the belief that that individual is deeply flawed, undesirable, or tainted because of their mental health status. In 1999, the Surgeon General reported that the greatest challenge for improvements in the mental health realm is stigma. It can cause individuals to experience discrimination, social exclusion and/or isolation, and it can lower their self-esteem. Stigma may also result in difficulty finding education or employment, limit individuals’ access to good health care, and prevent them from feeling supported by their communities. It’s important to understand that mental illness is a real illness like any other. Don’t let the stigmatizing of others compound an already difficult situation. It’s not something to be ashamed of, and it’s important to seek help if you need it.

Understanding That Stigma Causes Depression and Anxiety in Teens and Young Adults

Depression and anxiety are two of the most common mental health issues that young people face. Research shows that many young people who have mental illnesses fear that telling others would “scare them away”, or be risking social rejection. The stigma worsens depression symptoms of sadness, hopelessness, and worthlessness, and anxiety symptoms of excessive worry, fear, and panic. These conditions can be debilitating and can prevent people from living a normal life. It’s important to push past the stigma and find someone to help you with these conditions.

The Effects of Fear, Shame, and Hesitancy on Mental Health

Through her clinical studies, Katherine Elkington has documented young people being ostracized or rejected by family members with hurtful comments such as, “Get your (bleep) together!” Family members, and also friends or other people use these hurtful comments under the assumption that the unwanted behaviors and moods resulting from mental illness were something that the individual could control. Fear, shame, and hesitancy can have a negative impact on mental health. These emotions can prevent people from seeking help, which can lead to further problems down the road. Fear can cause people to avoid situations that make them anxious, which can lead to isolation and loneliness. Shame can cause people to feel unworthy or unlovable, which can lead to depression. Hesitancy can prevent people from seeking help, which can lead to a worsening of their symptoms.

Understanding The Impact of Social Media on Mental Health Stigma

Social media can have both positive and negative effects on mental health. On the one hand, social media can provide a sense of community and support. On the other hand, bullying and dog piling can induce or worsen shame and stigmatization. It’s important to be aware of how social media is affecting your mental health and to take steps to limit your use if necessary.

Overcoming fear and shame: How to Talk About Mental Health

Research shows that some teens report that their parents/guardians were the barrier to diagnosis and treatment. In these cases, it may be their parents/guardians’ fear of stigma that prevents them from acknowledging the facts of their child’s mental health symptoms. They may fear that the teen’s mental illness could reflect poorly on them or their parenting skills. The best way to overcome fear and shame is to talk about mental health. Trying to hide or ignore mental illness in the family for fear of social stigma will only cause the problems to grow and get worse. Eventually it will be impossible to avoid, and will be much more difficult to deal with. As parents, it’s important to be someone your teen can trust and confide in. Know that seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

The Importance of Support Systems

In family settings, anti-stigma programs can help start ongoing conversations where all family members feel safe to ask questions and express feelings and/or fears/concerns. This is a very important practice to prevent silence and denial of the young person’s mental health issues. When parents or other family members avoid talking about the issues, the young person may experience increased shame and the need for secrecy. Anti-stigma programs for families can also promote compassionate perspectives regarding mental illness. When families participate in groups with other families facing similar issues with mental illness, this can also be helpful in reducing stigma.

On a community level, one of the most effective strategies in reducing stigma is to increase awareness of how many people struggle with mental health. An individual struggling with a mental illness or disorder often feels very alone, isolated, and ashamed due to other people’s unwillingness to disclose that they too are struggling. This unwillingness is a result of stigma. The fact that 20% of young people experience a diagnosable mental disorder means they’re not alone. Knowing this would help de-stigmatize opening up about shared difficulties. If you don’t have a support system, consider reaching out to a mental health professional or joining a support group.

How to Reduce Stigma and Hesitancy

We must educate ourselves and the people around us. We fear what we do not understand. No one chooses to live with a mental illness. Therefore, individuals struggling with any kind of mental health issue or disorder must not be blamed for their moods and behaviors, or feel forced into secrecy because of shame. For symptoms to improve and reduce, treatment is necessary. If individuals are too fearful of social rejection to get the help they need, then the disorder perpetuates itself. To bridge the gap between the individual and the treatment they need, we must make them feel safe to pursue it. Reducing stigma is how we can do this.

Educational interventions that aim to increase awareness and “sensitize” young people about mental health issues are one of the most important ways to reduce stigma. One way to do this is to educate teachers and other professionals who work within the school system to be able to help youth understand mental illness. If they can define and explain symptoms through stories or vignettes, instead of relying on psychiatric labels, this can help reduce stigma. The goal of this type of intervention is to increase young people’s confidence in seeking help and proper treatment.

Prevention intervention in a group setting can be very effective for young people. Groups provide acceptance and support, while young people are still discovering their identities. This makes that time in life an important developmental period to intervene with prevention strategies. If we can reduce stigma for those struggling with mental illnesses, we may be able to prevent negative social-psychological processes like shame, secrecy, withdrawal, and fear of rejection from solidifying as part of the individual’s identity.

Conclusion: You Are Not Alone

One in five adolescents and young adults are living with a mental disorder. Symptoms of mental health issues usually arise during adolescence or young adulthood. This is a critical period in an individual’s life to increase acceptance and knowledge. It’s not something to be ashamed of, and it’s important to seek help if you need it. Fear, shame, and hesitancy can prevent people from seeking help, but talking about mental health and building a support system can help overcome these negative emotions. Remember, you are not alone. There are people who care about you and want to help you get better. If you’re struggling with mental health issues, don’t be afraid to reach out for help. Talk to a friend or family member you can trust, or a mental health professional. You deserve to get the help and support you need to live a happy and healthy life.

Sirona Therapy serving Westchester Putnam New York and Fairfield Connecticut Jennifer L Zauner, LCSWR Psychotherapist
Jennifer L. Zauner, LCSWR
Clinical Director

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