Stigma in our Society

What is Stigma?

Stigma refers to the negative attitudes, beliefs, and stereotypes associated with a particular characteristic or condition. It often leads to stigma and disapproval, discrimination, and marginalization of individuals or groups based on specific attributes or circumstances they possess. In the context of mental health, for example, stigma can manifest as the perception that individuals with mental health conditions are weak, dangerous, or unable to contribute to society. This stigma can result in prejudice, social exclusion, and barriers to accessing proper care and support.

What is social stigma in the context of mental illness?

Social stigma in mental illness refers to the negative attitudes, beliefs, and stereotypes that exist towards individuals in society with mental illness conditions. It is a form of social disapproval or discrimination that can lead to the marginalization and mistreatment of individuals with mental illnesses.

Social stigma in mental illness can have detrimental effects on the well-being and quality of life of individuals affected by mental health conditions. It can hinder their recovery, discourage help-seeking behavior, and perpetuate a cycle of silence and shame.

Efforts to combat social stigma in mental illness involve raising awareness, promoting education and empathy, challenging stereotypes, and fostering inclusive and supportive communities where individuals are accepted and valued regardless of their mental health status.

In India, we live in a collectivist society. The community that we live in has the power to shape our ideology and identity, to a large extent. We share common goals while standard, unwritten rules dictate how we behave and treat one another. Since the ideas of the collective are more important than that of an individual, even our attitudes largely reflect the beliefs of our community. Sometimes, being a part of this collective can help relieve feelings of isolation and loneliness; however, at other times, we tend to ostracize people within our own community, who may not fit the norm. These individuals could include people with mental illness.

Stigma against people with mental illness is a rampant issue that plagues Indian society. These attitudes may lead to prejudice. Further, this discrimination could be a reason why people with mental illness are so hesitant to seek help. While 1 in 5 individuals suffer from a mental illness, only 10-12% are likely to seek aid for it.

In the study “The Live Love Laugh Foundation (TLLLF) 2018 National Survey: How India Perceives Mental Health”, stigma was defined as the negative and often unfair beliefs held against people with mental illness. When asked to describe people with mental illness, almost half of the respondents used the words like ‘Retard’ and ‘Crazy/Mad/Stupid’, which may indicate stigma.

Some further relevant findings from the study:

1. 68% of respondents believe that people with mental illness should not be given any responsibilities

2. 60% believe that mental illness is caused by lack of self-discipline and willpower

3. 60% of respondents believe that people with mental illness should have their own groups to ‘avoid contaminating healthy people’

4. People mostly exhibit associate apathy/Indifference (28% show indifference to people with mental illness) and while 14% of individuals associate feelings of fear (57% always or sometimes feel fear in connection to people with mental illness) towards people with mental illness

5. 1 in 4 individuals also describe people with mental illness as being ‘prone to violence’.

In order to ensure that everyone in society gets the help that they require, the amount of stigma associated with seeking support needs to be reduced. As members of a collective, we have the responsibility to make sure that every single person with mental illness is supported, taken care of, and not discriminated against. We need to create a culture in which individuals are not afraid to speak up about their vulnerabilities, and are further open to seeking treatment for their mental health concerns. A more inclusive society that pushes for positive change should be the common goal that our collective strives to achieve in the upcoming years.

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