Mental Health Conditions and Stigma
If you have a mental health condition, you may worry about what other people will think of you. In many cases, no one can even tell if you are having symptoms. But sometimes the fear that someone can tell is enough to cause concern.
It may help to understand what stigma means and why it happens.
People sometimes have negative views about things they don't understand, such as mental health conditions. Some people may believe things about mental health conditions that aren't true. Other people may have good intentions but still feel uncomfortable when they learn that you have a mental health condition. This can make people treat you and your family differently. This is called stigma—when others judge you because you have a personal quality, trait, or condition.
Stigma occurs when others:
- Don't understand the mental health condition.
- Don't realize that a mental health condition is an illness that can be treated.
- Think that a mental health condition is "your own fault" or that you can "get over it."
- Are afraid that they might have a mental health condition someday.
- Are nervous around you.
You may have your own negative feelings about having a mental health condition. You may not want an employer or even your friends to know. This is called "self-stigma." It can keep you from getting treatment or finding work.
Getting past stigma
It's important to remember that there's nothing to feel ashamed of. Many people have mental health conditions. And there are many things that may lead to a mental health condition.
Speak kindly to yourself, and use kind words to talk about your mental health condition to others. Learn about your condition so that you can understand the myths that might make you feel self-stigma. If you are comfortable doing so, you can offer to teach others about your mental health condition. When people understand it as a health condition, they can feel more educated and less fearful.
Stigma at work
If you are thinking about talking to your employer about your mental health, your health care team may have suggestions about what to share and how best to do that. Talking to your employer about your mental health may help you feel more supported at work. But you also have the right to keep your mental health information private.
If your symptoms affect your work, you may want to talk to your manager or human resources department. If they understand what you need, they may be able to make some changes that will help you keep doing your job well.
Your employer is not allowed to discriminate against you because of your mental health condition.
Finding a job
If you are looking for a job, the Department of Labor for your state may offer services to help you. Services may include:
- Job skills training. This includes help with preparing for interviews, writing resumes, and learning other skills needed to find work.
- On-the-job training placement. This helps you get work experience.
Stigma in legal issues
People with mental health conditions have the right to make their own decisions about their lives. For example, you have the right to vote and to take part in legal agreements. These include marriage, divorce, and business ventures. Most states and many health care groups have a bill of rights for people with mental health conditions. For example, you have the right to privacy about your condition and treatment plan. And you have the right to treatment that places the fewest possible limits on your lifestyle.
If you have a condition that can make it hard to make decisions at times, it's a good idea to prepare legal papers in case this happens. It's best to do this when you have few or no symptoms.
- An advance directive tells your wishes for treatment when you have severe symptoms.
- A durable power of attorney for health care says who will be in charge of making decisions when you can't make them for yourself. This document can be very helpful if your symptoms get so bad that you need someone you trust to make treatment decisions for you.
- A power of attorney lets you choose someone to help you deal with money if your symptoms keep you from doing this on your own. Find someone you trust to co-sign financial documents. These include things like credit card applications and mortgage papers.