My Mind News examines how the stigma surrounding mental health has evolved and how it might be eradicated in the future.
Mental health stigmatization
In recent years, there has been an increased awareness of mental health and how it can be addressed to reduce its stigmatization. These strategies will be vital to tackling mental health going forward, improving the rates at which people seek help, and increasing treatment efficacy.
In this article, My Mind News discusses the roots of mental health stigmatization and its role in our societies.
The evolution of mental health stigma
For decades, scientists have understood that there is a stigma surrounding mental health disorders. Misconceptions relating to mental health issues and discrimination against those suffering from such problems likely have evolutionary roots.
To this end, it has been hypothesized that humans have developed innate cognitive strategies that encourage them to prefer to socialize with others similar to them and avoid those likely to carry an infectious disease. While these behaviors originally served an evolutionary purpose, these same cognitive biases now serve to enhance the suffering of those more vulnerable.
It is, therefore, essential to understand how these stigmas develop to grow a stigma-free society that accepts and understands all people, regardless of their mental health status.
The modern stigmatization of mental health has also developed out of ignorance. During the 1950s, society suffered greatly from mental health ignorance, which led to considerable fear and extreme stigma surrounding mental health disorders.
Ultimately, a lack of knowledge about mental health fueled this fear and stigma. Psychology was still in its beginnings, and much of the information that was available at that time was not widely shared with the public.
Ignorance – a starting point
The 1950s were a dark time for mental health. Many people with mental health problems were incarcerated in asylums and subjected to severe and, often, completely useless treatments. These patients were considered ‘lunatics‘ and ‘defective,’ propelling the fear surrounding mental health.
The treatment of these individuals also inevitably prevented many people from seeking essential psychological assistance. It was a widely accepted opinion that mental health problems were incurable and irreversible.
Since the 1950s, research has demonstrated that the stigmatization and discrimination of mental health disorders can severely worsen a person’s mental health problems. This stigma can delay a person seeking help and treatment, ultimately impacting their recovery.
Several factors have also been linked with the stigmatization of mental health disorders, including poor housing, social isolation, poverty, and unemployment. To prevent this cycle of mental health problems from continuing, it is essential to change the attitude toward mental health to support those dealing with these issues.
Transforming the image of mental health
In the 1960s, psychiatry was finally considered a science. This recognition allowed psychiatric patients to be now eligible for treatments in hospitals rather than asylums. This shift in knowledge also reduced the taboo associated with conversations on mental health.
The 1970s saw another step forward in mental health, with research outside of the lab becoming the main focus of this scientific field. For the first time, scientists were studying people in real-world settings and gathering data on the experience of living with mental health problems rather than collecting data in ‘artificial’ settings that are less likely to provide fundamental insights.
By the 1980s, mental health research was established as a viable academic career. This acceptance by the academic community helped to boost the outward view of mental health further. Understanding mental health as a complex issue involving social, psychological, and biological factors also became a more important goal.
This transition to greater acceptance was visible both in the academic settings and the real world, as it reduced the fear previously fueled by ignorance of mental health disorders. Psychiatric research was also granted a significantly greater amount of money, which played a crucial role in some of the landmark discoveries to be made in this field.
In the 1990s, researchers demonstrated the true prevalence of mental health disorders. In the United Kingdom, for example, it was revealed that one in four people had experienced mental health problems. As a result, mental health was finally recognized as something that impacts all humans rather than just a small and isolated fraction of society.
Today, the stigma surrounding mental health has dramatically reduced; however, much work still needs to be done. Recent data shows that up to 75% of Americans and Europeans do not seek help for mental health problems due to fear of treatment, shame, and embarrassment.
Therefore, educational campaigns on mental health issues remain vital in normalizing conversations surrounding mental health.
Have you experienced the stigmatization of mental health? Do you take steps to avoid facing up to possible stigmatization? Tell us more in the comments.