stigma mental health
17 Sep 2020

The Stigma Still Surrounding Mental Health

As part of the research for his thesis on Men, Masculinity and their Mental Health, Barry Redmond focused on an area that unfortunately is still prevalent whenever a discussion on this topic is brought up, mental health stigma. Here are some of his key insights.

 Mental Health Stigma, still a Barrier to Discussion

“People with mental health problems say that the social stigma attached to mental ill-health and the discrimination they experience can make their difficulties worse and make it harder to recover. 

Mental health problems are common. They affect thousands of people in the UK, and their friends, families, work colleagues and society in general.” (Mental Health Foundation. 2020). 

See Change the national mental health stigma reduction partnership in Ireland sees stigma (or social stigma) as being a labelling marker of shame, and humiliation, which disconnects and separates an individual from others 

They also see it as being a significant problem which still persists not only in Ireland but worldwide and presents individuals and organisations a substantial challenge to alter perceptions to overcome the negative consequences of such a pervasive and divisive notion. They understand it as presenting one of the most problematic characteristics of living with a mental illness, as it inexorably immobilises many people from seeking treatment based as the belief is on: 

  • Prejudice 
  • Ignorance 
  • Absence of insight 
  • Understanding 
  • Aversive mindsets among official agencies 

Stigma as affecting mental health is usually known to have two distinct aspects:

  1. Public stigma – This is the harmful approach instigated by people and institutions with regards to people with mental health (Parcesepe and Cabassa 2013). It generates stereotypes and social conditions that favour discrimination, misinformation, and misrepresentation of mental illness and people’s mental health (Parcesepe and Cabassa 2013). Unfortunately, it is widespread, subtle, insidious, and overt in society.
  2. Self-stigma is the person’s awareness of the prejudiced environment which becomes a self-internalising process. This corrodes their self-esteem (self-acceptance), and self-worth (Corrigan et al 2009).  This self-stigma is the consequence of the individual embracing, assimilating, and believing, (through social reinforcement) the negatively induced stereotypes, and social discrimination, present in public stigma (Corrigan et al 2009).

This feeling of learned helplessness creates the “why try” effect. This is where the person’s belief system becomes distorted due to low self-worth, which in turn reduces their feelings of self-efficacy. Self-efficacy as Ackerman (2020) cites is the self-belief which allows people to meet the ongoing challenges of life and achieve their goals with confidence. When this feeling of effectiveness in the world is diminished or impeded, the individual’s ability to self-regulate becomes reduced and thereby lowers the quality of the person’s life (Corrigan et al 2009). 

To help explain the effects of stigma on the individual an explanation has been provided for in labelling theory. Labelling theory (Scheff 1966 cited in Hing and Russell, 2017) suggests that individuals respond by identifying with the label imposed upon them by others (Crossman, 2020). 

It also sees individuals being labelled deviant by society due to their mental illness. This stigmatization is characterised by:

  • Denunciation 
  • Intolerance 
  • Devaluation 
  • Isolation

It creates a situation whereby the individuals’ and societal expectations are lowered while simultaneously prompting a cognitive bias that prompts the sufferer to behave in a certain way (Hing and Russell, 2017). 

As well, the socioeconomic status that a person finds themselves in, is a determinant of the likelihood of them receiving treatment, and also the probability of them accessing the proper professional support in the first instance (APA. 2005).  The lower the individual is on the social status index, the greater the likelihood of them having mental instability. 


Stigma and Men’s Mental Health 

 The Priory is a prominent independent source for behavioural change, and specifically psychotherapy in the UK. It provides services for 30,000 clients. 

To celebrate international men’s day in 2015 they commissioned a survey of men’s mental health in the UK (The Priory. 2020). 

Their findings were equally interesting and surprising from a professional point of view. They found: 

  • 77% of men surveyed had experienced anxiety, depression and stress at some time in their life, 
  • The biggest stressor for men being work at 32%,
  • A sizable proportion (40%) of them saying that suicidal thoughts would eventually prompt them to attend counselling  

Although these figures are stark the same survey found that 60% of respondents did say they would confide in someone in times of need. 

Yet the fact that the Priory undertook this survey is reflective of the fact that they and sections of the wider society realise, that there is a palpable issue with men seeking mental health supports. 

Campbell’s (2019) observation in healthline observed that the stigma men endure is a real event in their lives, as they have a palpable inclination to worry what others think about them if they show weakness. 

Society requires that men be “men” and utilise the phrase “man up” in times of emotional pain, does not help (NHS. 2020). This is especially the case when mental health is already stigmatised in society. 

Similarly, with the increased susceptibility of society to show and strive for perfection, it has also increased the likelihood of creating a negative environment for men to express their problems (Pittaro, 2018). 

This socialisation which is propagated by both men and women towards men, produces a self-defeating macho bravado which discriminates men from seeking support at a time of mental anguish (Pittaro, 2018). 

Moreover, Pittaro, (2018) implies that this misguided approach by men and by extenuation society, which essentially forces them into a corner is a significant reason for the increase of depression in men of all ages. 

What Can be Done to Counter Mental Health Stigma?

Campbell (2017) suggests a way address this issue would be in the first instance to reduce the stigma for men, and one notable way would be a consistent media campaign (Smarts. 2020). 

From such a campaign would arise the encouragement for men to seek help and supports, a help which would make men aware to recognise the false belief that they can deal with mental illness when they cannot (Campbell, 2017).

Want To Learn More?

There are many organisations who are striving to end the stigma surrounding mental health. From an Irish context, you can check out See Change and their Green Ribbon campaign. They are currently working on events that will be taking place in October.