Let’s Face It – Mental health stigma is a major problem that affects all of us

There are many myths about mental health, but did you know that 3 out of every 4 suicides are among men? Men are less likely to speak up about mental health problems like depression or anxiety because they think admitting it makes them weak. This is one of the many ways that society makes men believe that they cannot be a ‘real’ man if they ask for help. The reality is that mental health is important for everyone!

Why is mental health important?

Taking care of our mental health enables us to be strong enough to face and recover from challenges that come our way. Anyone can have a bad day, but that does not mean one’s life is bad. What matters is how we respond to it and maintain our mental health.

Our emotional, psychological, and social well-being all fall under mental health. It influences how we think and feel, our ability to solve problems and overcome difficulties, our social connections, and our understanding of the world around us. Mental health is important because it affects everything. It impacts our ability to cope, adapt, and solve problems. It also impacts our ability to be happy, productive, and well-adjusted.

What is mental health stigma?

Although 1 in 3 South Africans have or will have a mental health issue at some point in their lives, mental health still carries a considerable stigma (negative attitude). As a result, people with mental health issues may fear being judged or discriminated against.

Stigma occurs because of:

  • Lack of understanding of mental illness (ignorance and misinformation)
  • Negative attitudes or beliefs about it (prejudice)
  • Incorrect media representation or portrayal of mental health, particularly on television and in films

Mental health stigma and prejudice can stem from a variety of sources, including society, employers, the media, and even our own friends and family. A person with mental health problems might even develop internalised stigma, in which they start believing negative messages or stereotypes.

When someone is stigmatised, they are defined by their condition rather than who they are as individuals. Examples of this is when a person with a mental illness is described as “dangerous,” “crazy,” or “incompetent,” rather than having a mental illness. It’s also stigma when a person with a mental illness is mocked or labelled as “weak” for seeking treatment. Stigma is commonly associated with negative or false stereotypes.

The social stigma and discrimination that people with mental health issues face can worsen their problems and make recovery more difficult. It’s likely that the person will avoid seeking help because they’re afraid of being stigmatised.

Some of the effects of stigma include:

  • Feelings of shame, hopelessness and isolation
  • Reluctance to ask for help or to get treatment
  • Lack of understanding by family, friends or others
  • Fewer opportunities for employment or social interaction
  • Bullying, physical violence or harassment
  • Self-doubt – the belief that you will never overcome your illness or be able to achieve what you want in life.

The rates of abuse, discrimination and violence that members of LGBTIQ+ and MSM (men who have sex with men) communities face is significantly higher than for heterosexual people. Abuse and violence can be physical, mental, sexual or emotional LGBTIQ+ and MSM prejudice and discrimination are additional complications to having mental health problems. LGBTIQ+ and MSM people have an increased risk of depression and anxiety, substance abuse, self-harming, and suicidal thoughts.

How do I deal with mental health stigma?

  • Get the mental health treatment you need or support you need. Try not to let the fear of being labelled with a mental illness stop you from getting help.
  • Do not believe mental health stigma. Sometimes, if you hear or experience something often enough, you start to believe it yourself. Try not to let other people’s ignorance influence the way you feel about yourself. Mental illness is not a sign of weakness and is rarely something you can deal with on your own. Talking about your mental health issues with healthcare professionals will help you on your road to recovery or management.
  • Do not hide away. Many people with mental illness want to isolate themselves from the world. Reaching out to people you trust – family, friends, coaches or religious leaders – can mean that you get the support you need.
  • Connect with others. Joining a mental health support group – either online or in person – can help you deal with feelings of isolation and make you realise that you are not alone in your feelings and experiences.
  • You are not your illness. Do not define yourself by your illness as other people might. Instead of saying ‘I’m schizophrenic’, say ‘I have schizophrenia’. There is power in language.
  • It’s not personal. Remember that other people’s judgements often come from a lack of understanding rather than anything else. These judgments are made before they get to know you, so do not believe that their views have anything to do with you personally.

Engage with us and let us help. We offer free telephonic, online, or in-person counselling sessions in Johannesburg. You get three sessions and it’s important to complete all of them. Sessions are available Tuesdays to Fridays from 9:00 till 15:00. To make an appointment for free counselling with an Engage Men’s Health social worker, call or WhatsApp 063 649 5107.