The oxford dictionary defines stigma as a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person. It has been classified into two types – first, a social stigma which is the society’s prejudicial attitude and discriminatory behavior towards persons with mental illness, and secondly, the perceived stigma which refers to the experiences of the mentally ill persons.
The reasons why mentally ill are stigmatized are not difficult to understand. It is often believed that mental illness results from a lack of strength of character, that somehow the mentally ill are themselves responsible for their fate. The mentally ill are considered to be dangerous, homicidal, less intelligent, and not at par with their counterparts. The role of media in propagating these false beliefs can also not be left without a mention.
The ways in which stigma affects the mentally ill are also very important to be understood before we can talk about managing the same. Stigma impairs the help-seeking of the mentally ill, further aggravating their illness besides the increased psychological stress they face which leads to reduced acceptance of the illness by patients and their family members. Even after recovery from their illness, stigma interferes with their occupational and social rehabilitation.
To reduce stigma against mental illness, we will first have to create awareness amongst the masses about these illnesses and remove the myths and negative stereotypes attached with the mental illness and mentally ill. This can be done by increasing our knowledge about mental illness, interacting with the ill without any prejudices and preconceived notions, and providing them equal opportunities as far as possible.