Stigmatization of mental health

Stigmatization of mental health

Mental health in South Africa holds many challenges. On one hand, people struggling with these illnesses struggle with the symptoms and disabilities that result from the disease.

On the other, they are challenged by the stereotypes and prejudice that result from misconceptions about mental health conditions. As a result of both, people with mental health conditions lack the opportunities that define quality of life:

good jobs, safe housing, satisfactory health care, and affiliation with a diverse group of people.

Mental health problems are common. They affect thousands of people in South Africa, and their friends, families, work colleagues and society in general.

Did you know?

  • It is estimated that 1 in 6 people in the past week experienced a common mental health disorder
  • 10% of children and young people (aged 5-16 years) have a clinically diagnosable mental health disorder
  • Depression is the predominant mental health disorder worldwide, followed by anxiety, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Research has gone far to understand the effects of mental health, but only recently begun to understand the impacts of stigmatization. Much work needs to be done to fully understand the extent and scope of prejudice against people with mental health conditions. Fortunately, social psychologists and sociologists have been studying phenomena related to stigma in other minority groups for several decades.

In this paper, we integrate research specific to mental health conditions stigma with the more general body of research on stereotypes and prejudice to provide a brief overview of issues in the area.

Stigma can lead to discrimination. Discrimination may be obvious and direct, such as someone making a negative remark about your mental health conditions or your treatment. It may be unintentional or subtle, such as someone avoiding you because the person assumes you could be unstable, violent or dangerous due to your mental health disorder. Because of these stigmas’ some patients can end up judging themselves.

Some of the harmful effects of stigma can include:

  • Reluctance to seek help or treatment
  • Lack of understanding by family, friends, co-workers or others
  • Fewer opportunities for work, school or social activities or trouble finding housing
  • Bullying, physical violence or harassment
  • Health insurance that doesn’t adequately cover your mental health disorder treatment
  • The belief that you’ll never succeed at certain challenges or that you can’t improve your situation