More and more people are becoming aware of the importance of mental health; however, it does not reduce the stigma around mental health diagnosis. Unlike what happens with other medical diagnoses, the motivation to seek help when psychiatric symptoms appear is usually very low and may take up to 11 years on average.
The initial contact with a mental health specialist is just the first step. After doing so, the patient needs to accept the diagnosis and commit to the treatment. This is when mental health awareness becomes key to achieve better results.
What is mental health stigma?
One of the first obstacles a person faces is the stigma associated with mental illness.
Stigma is the tendency to view a person with a certain characteristic or condition negatively, often because it is seen as a disadvantage or potential risk. This negative perception can lead to discrimination against people with mental health problems and is one of the factors that hinder the search for professional help.
When psychiatric symptoms arise, both the patient (due to self-stigma) and their family may avoid confronting the situation for fear of the social consequences that come with a mental health diagnosis (public stigma). However, it is a mental health specialist who can provide clarity, address concerns, and recommend appropriate treatment for the condition.
One of the best ways to combat stigma, is by accessing evidence-based information and sharing it with those close to the patient. This is because a lack of knowledge often leads to rejection and discrimination.
Mental health awareness
On the other hand, mental health awareness involves recognizing and acknowledging specific symptoms that correspond to a mental illness. This awareness is critical for achieving treatment adherence, preventing relapses, and improving the patient’s prognosis. Disease awareness is essential in achieving these outcomes.
Achieving disease awareness involves overcoming self or public stigma. Prior to experiencing a mental illness, individuals often have their own preconceptions about what it means to have a mental health condition. Depending on the severity or negativity of these perceptions, individuals may experience greater resistance when accepting their new health condition. It is important to recognize and address any existing stigma in order to promote mental health awareness and improve treatment outcomes.
Achieving illness awareness may take some time, but it is critical to minimizing the complications of mental illness. It requires the support of family and friends who must also accept the patient’s diagnosis.
To keep in mind
To summarize, when it comes to changing our perception regarding mental health, it is necessary to take into account the following:
1. Consult reliable sources of information to have an accurate view of the mental health disorders.
2. The sooner treatment is started, the better prognosis for the patient.
3. Having a psychiatric diagnosis is not the same as being the disease. It is said “I have depression”, instead of “I am depressive”.
4. Mental health conditions do not result from weakness of character, they are caused by biological (including genetics) and environmental factors
5. There are effective treatments to treat mental health problems.
6. Fighting stigma begins by changing our own vision of mental illness, no one is exempt.
If you think your mental health is affected, do not hesitate to contact a mental health specialist who can guide you, clarify your doubts and accompany you in the recovery process.
Edited by: Maddison Henley, PA-C