Stigma Surrounding Mental Health and Trauma

What is stigma and how can we smash the stigma that surrounds mental health?

There are two forms of stigma surrounding mental health.

The first is social stigma, when prejudicial attitudes and discriminating behaviour are directed towards people who have suffered some kind of trauma or who have mental health problems.

The second is perceived stigma or self-stigma, when the person with mental health issues or trauma has internalized perceptions of discrimination. This perceived stigma can cause feelings of shame, resulting in poorer treatment outcomes.

Sadly, studies have shown that stigma surrounding people with mental health and trauma problems are widespread and common. Studies found that a large portion of respondents felt that people with mental health issues including depression and schizophrenia were unpredictable and dangerous, and they’d be less likely to hire someone with a mental health issue.

Why Does Stigma Matter?

The stigma surrounding trauma and mental health causes prejudicial attitudes and discriminating behaviour towards those who are suffering. This results in exclusion, poor social support, poor quality of life, and low self-esteem. It also harms treatment outcomes, preventing efficient and effective recovery from trauma or mental health issues. Self-stigma is also correlated with reduced employment success and increased social isolation.

How Can We Reduce Stigma?

Often people stigmatize mental health and trauma regardless of their age, their knowledge of mental health and trauma, and irrespective of whether they know someone with these issues. In fact, people who are most knowledgeable about mental health problems such as psychiatrists and mental health nurses also have stigmatizing beliefs about trauma and mental health themselves!

Since these negative attitudes are so entrenched in society, campaigns aimed at changing these beliefs need to be multifaceted, doing more than just imparting knowledge about trauma or mental health issues. A successful campaign to reduce stigma needs to challenge existing negative stereotypes; especially the way they’re portrayed in the media.

Successful programs such as Mental Health Week, Not Myself Today, and Peer support Canada by the Canadian Mental Health Association are aimed at improving intergroup relationships and eliminating prejudice. These programs and events encourage mass participation and social contact between both those with and without mental health issues or trauma. This contact helps to facilitate positive intergroup relations and disclosure of mental health problems. For example, during CMHA Mental Health Week, everyone is encouraged to use the #GetLoud hashtag to share information on trauma and mental health on social media.

These kinds of inter-group events help improve attitudes towards those with trauma or mental health issues. They also help people feel safe disclosing their trauma or mental health problems, and they help promote anti-stigma behaviours and engagement.

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Trauma Practice Can Help

At Trauma Practice we aim to advance education by performing research in the fields of post-trauma informed care and group programming. We believe promoting health through research not only creates access to trauma-informed mental health care, but also provides better services for those in need.

Our goal is to improve the conversation through safe venues focused on trauma-informed care, where up-to-date and accurate information is widely shared. Together we can create an open dialogue and reduce the stigma and isolation of those who suffer.

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