Covering such a wide range of different needs, mental illness impacts lives in many different ways. As I mentioned previously in my entry “Did you know?”, individuals with mental illness are significantly impacted by the illness in three different ways–emotionally, psychologically, and socially. Today, I’d like to focus on the social impacts of mental illness.
In World Psychiatry, Patrick W. Corrigan and Amy C. Watson discuss the stigma that is placed on individuals with mental illness in their article, “Understanding the impact of stigma on people with mental illness” (2002). They discuss in detail the differences between public stigma and self stigma where, with public stigma, groups of people are considered while, with self-stigma, a certain individual is taking to heart what is believed or felt as truth from the public through stereotypes, prejudices, and discriminations. Corrigan and Watson continue that the general population feels that persons with significant mental illnesses should be categorized by fear and exclusion, authoritarianism, or by benevolence. Based on these categories, individuals with several mental illnesses should be feared, are irresponsible, or are childlike and, therefore, should be taken care of to the point where others are making decisions for them and are out of the general population. A common societal perception of those with mental illnesses is that mental illness can be controlled and individuals may be responsible for causing their own mental illness. As a result, Corrigan and Watson explain that public or social stigma take on four different forms: withholding assistance, avoidance, forceful or threatening treatment, and segregated institutions.
While to some degree some of the social or public stigma may be correct for a select few individuals who deal with mental illnesses, those beliefs and views do not encompass the vast majority of those who suffer with a mental illness. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) (“How to Help a Friend”, 2016) recommends ways to support friends and loved ones in a more positive manner. Through observing an individual with a mental illness, friends and family members should share their concerns with the individual using “I” statements, reach out to someone they personally trust, and offer support to the individual. In another article, “Maintaining a Healthy Relationship” (2016), NAMI discusses more supports for those with mental illnesses, including: not buying into the societal stigma, understanding confusing behaviors, seeing opportunities for improvment, getting support from others, setting clear expectations for behavior, communicating effectively, and others. The others can be read at http://www.nami.org/Find-Support/Family-Members-and-Caregivers/Maintaining-a-Healthy-Relationship.
It’s important for individuals with mental illnesses to know that they have people who care about them in their lives. When individuals with mental illnesses know that they have people they can rely on and help to support them, it transforms a variety of potential negative situations into a variety of potential positive ones. While it’ll take time for society to really understand mental illnesses, we’ve got to start by educating ourselves and be proactive in supporting the needs of others.