Shrouding Stigma and Fear in Mental Health

The issue of health is often surrounded by stigma and fear. People with illnesses face prejudice and discrimination which creates obstacles for them to access treatment and leads to misunderstandings. This negative perception is fueled by portrayals in the media that reinforce stereotypes. Although society recognizes the nature of health disorders and the importance of seeking help it remains concerning that there is still a lingering negative perception towards individuals, with mental illness.


Zina Ortiz

8/12/20234 min read

EMDR Psychedelic Assisted Therapy Trauma Anxiety Denver Colorado
EMDR Psychedelic Assisted Therapy Trauma Anxiety Denver Colorado

The connection between stigma and fear within the topic of mental health possesses an obstacle that affects people's willingness to seek help and the overall understanding of mental health issues in society. Stigma, prejudice and discrimination against individuals with mental health issues create an environment where those in need of support often hesitate to follow through due to concerns about being treated differently or facing consequences in various aspects of their lives. Stigma, which stems from a lack of understanding, ignorance or fear is perpetuated by misleading portrayals of illness in the media. While many individuals may acknowledge the genetic nature of health disorders and recognize the necessity for treatment studies show that negative attitudes towards those with mental illnesses still prevail. This stigma takes different forms, including stigma (negative attitudes held by others); self stigma (internalized shame experienced by individuals with mental illness) and institutional stigma (systemic policies that restrict opportunities for those with mental illness).

Some specific examples of movies, TV shows and books that have faced criticism, for their portrayal of stereotypes or the stigmatization of health issues in movies: "One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest"; Although considered a classic this film has been called out for its depiction of health facilities and its perpetuation of the stereotype. "Split"; This movie portrays a character with Dissociative Identity Disorder (formerly known as multiple personality disorder) as dangerous and violent which reinforces the misconception that individuals with this condition pose a threat. "Psycho"; This iconic film contributed to the image of individuals with health issues as murderous and deranged perpetuating the stereotype of the "psycho killer." "Girl, Interrupted"; While it tells a story this film has been criticized for simplifying and sensationalizing illness by reducing complex conditions to melodramatic elements.

TV Shows; "American Horror Story; Asylum"; This particular TV show is set in an institution and includes disturbing portrayals of patients thereby contributing to society's fear surrounding health facilities. "Criminal Minds"; Despite its popularity this show often features episodes where criminal behavior is attributed to a characters health issue. Such portrayals reinforce the stereotype that individuals, with illnesses are inherently dangerous. The TV show "13 Reasons Why" has received criticism, for its depiction of suicide with some arguing that it romanticizes the act and fails to address health concerns.

Literature; Sylvia Plaths novel "The Bell Jar " while highly regarded has faced scrutiny for its portrayal of illness as a decline without prospects for recovery potentially dissuading individuals from seeking help. Elizabeth Wurtzels memoir "Prozac Nation," known for its honest narrative has been criticized for focusing on suffering without emphasizing the path to healing, which could discourage those in need from pursuing treatment. Charlotte Perkins Gilmans classic story "The Yellow Wallpaper" has also drawn criticism for its portrayal of illness and treatment in a manner that perpetuates stigma surrounding health facilities.

It is important to acknowledge that these works have had impact and have sparked discussions about mental health. However they have also faced criticisms for contributing to the stigma and reinforcement of stereotypes. The key is to promote a nuanced understanding of health issues, through media.

Someone who experiences mental health challenges resulting from trauma faces a double burden. Dealing with symptoms, such, as anxiety or depression is already a challenge that requires effort. On top of that they also have to deal with the stigma and prejudice from others who are ignorant or misinformed about these issues, which unfortunately exists in our society. Considering the individual struggles and the sociopolitical challenges people face it becomes more difficult for them to seek help.

The impact of stigma goes beyond individuals with illness; it also affects their loved ones. It is particularly challenging within ethnic communities where cultural values and distrust towards mental healthcare systems can act as barriers, to seeking help. The adverse effects of stigma and discrimination are far reaching. Considering all levels of barriers, these exacerbate symptoms that impede recovery and decrease the likelihood of seeking treatment.

In my culture, or for what I have seen, heard, experienced is that if one is receiving therapy then it is common to be labeled "crazy", which is absurd. I don't know of a DSM diagnosis that is categorized as Crazy, although my mind is tempted to play with this idea (insert internal chuckle here). It is in itself crazy to not seek help when in need.

Additionally the issue of stigma, in the workplace is a concern as it leads to the underutilization of behavioral health coverage and raises concerns about discussing health matters while on the job.

Tackling this stigma requires an effort. Research has shown that having knowledge of or personal contact with individuals who experience illness can be a way to reduce societal stigma. The sharing of stories by those who have lived through health challenges plays a vital role in demystifying these issues and making them more relatable. Social marketing campaigns that aim to increase awareness and provide information have yielded outcomes in reducing stigma and improving access to health services.

Employers also hold a role in addressing stigma. Their efforts to foster a culture that prioritizes behavioral health offers healthcare services and encourages open conversations can break the silence surrounding mental illness and make it as normal to discuss as physical health concerns. Through education, empathy and creating environments we can collectively confront stigma and fear fostering a society where seeking health support is viewed as a positive step, towards well being. This will empower individuals to share their experiences without facing discrimination.

In the book titled "The Body Keeps The Score" written by Bessel van der Kolk describes the influence that trauma has, on our neurology physical well being. The book highlights the importance of taking an approach, to healing and recovery by addressing stigmatization and fear associated with trauma.