In recent years, our culture has become more aware of the harm that stigma inflicts on those living with mental illness. Negative attitudes, discrimination and prejudice again those dealing with mental health challenges can not only be hurtful, but can prevent these individuals from seeking help as well as from securing jobs, finding housing and forming relationships. However, this stigma touches far more than merely the individuals who struggle with mental health conditions.
On World Mental Health Day back in 2014, the World Health Organization declared, “Mental health is everyone’s business, and if we succeed, everyone benefits; if we fail, everyone pays.” This statement is just as true today and especially relevant in light of our growing understanding of stigma. As we’ve become more aware of how stigma hurts those dealing with mental illness, we’ve also increasingly recognized that it has a far-reaching sting that impacts not only these individuals, but many others as well.
Impacting Loved Ones
The family members and close friends of those struggling with mental health challenges often feel the sting of stigma acutely as they witness their loved ones facing unmerited unkindness and rejection. When people dealing with mental health conditions are viewed through the lens of their diseases rather than simply as people, they’re devalued and discounted, hurting not only them but those who love them. Seeing a friend or family member being viewed or treated as though that person is worthless is not only deeply painful but can prevent loved ones from seeking the support they need as they come alongside their loved one.
When stigma prevails, individuals dealing with mental health challenges often remain isolated, pushed into the shadows by disparaging looks, unfriendly words and inconsiderate actions. As a result, they frequently struggle to build relationships in their communities.
While this certainly hurts those living with mental illness, the harm doesn’t stop there as this lack of connection robs many of the benefits of getting to know these individuals. Dozens of people miss out on learning from the experiences of the man living on the corner, laughing at the jokes of the lady across the street or gleaning gardening tips from the neighbor with the green thumb. Entire communities are poorer when people are set aside simply because they deal with a mental health condition.
As stigma paints seeking treatment for a mental health challenge as shameful, those who are struggling may delay speaking up and asking for help—or may never seek assistance at all. As a result, their illnesses may hinder them from using their unique gifts as their conditions remain unmanaged. In addition, discrimination and negative attitudes can prevent people living with mental health conditions from applying for jobs or obtaining positions where they could utilize their gifts for the good of many.
These losses can have sweeping consequences as society isn’t able to benefit from the skills and talents of countless individuals. Thousands or even millions of people miss the opportunity to hear the music created by someone living with bipolar disorder, to savor a meal cooked by a chef dealing with PTSD or to enjoy the invention of a scientist who struggles with major depressive disorder.
When stigma is present, everyone feels its sting. However, when it is rejected, families, neighborhoods and ultimately society reap the rewards. Those who know members of The Well Community have experienced this firsthand.
Thanks to our many donors and volunteers, The Well provides a community where those living with serious mental illnesses are accepted and receive support that helps them manage their conditions and stay healthy, even in this challenging season of ongoing social distancing. And, as so many friends of The Well have told us, when our members are welcomed and others get to know them for who they are, everyone benefits. Contact us to learn how you could help The Well continue to give members a community where stigma doesn’t exist.