For people living with a mental health disorder, whatever it may be, prejudice and discrimination can be a major obstacle to a fulfilling and satisfying life
One in five people will suffer from a mental health problem in their lives. The problem concerns us all. Yet when we talk about mental illness, discrimination and stigma are ubiquitous. So what does it mean exactly? Stigma can be broadly defined as a collection of negative and unfair beliefs. When associated with mental illness, stigma leads to the inaccurate and hurtful objectification of people as lazy, incompetent and even dangerous. In turn, stigma fuels feelings of shame guilt and incompetence in people, which only aggravates their symptoms and prevents them from seeking the help they need. Discrimination can be described as an unfair treatment that directly results from stigma.
Stigma is being perceived as different from others whereas discrimination is being treated differently
Mental illness is an invisible, stigmatizing and even self-stigmatizing disease. Imagine. You’ve just had an early-morning, rude awakening and you feel awful about yourself. You still manage to drag yourself painfully to the office. A friendly colleague shows up; you haven’t seen them in a while. Obviously, he or she enquires about your health. Almost automatically, you’ll tell them that you’re coming down with a cold, a gastrointestinal episode or backache. But there’s one thing you’ll probably never say: “Look, I’m barely recovering from a major depressive episode which put me down in the dumps for over a month”. Saying that to a friend is somewhat difficult. Saying it to a colleague or a supervisor is almost impossible.
Stigma can be found in all spheres of life of a person with a mental health disorder: in his or her family, circle of friends, at work, and even within the persons themselves, this being called self-stigma, i.e. the internalizing by the mental health sufferer of external perceptions of mental illness.
Self-stigma implies that people who suffer from a mental illness tend to hide their problem, to be ashamed of it, as if they were not suffering from a real disease. Yet, it’s not because an injury is invisible that it does not exist. It is not because one can’t designate the pain one feels that it does not exist. Self-stigma will then lead to isolation, lower self-esteem and a distorted self-image. As a result, people with mental health problems may refrain from seeking treatment, from taking an active role in various areas of life, such as social life and employment.
“Stigma towards mental illness is sometimes harder to bear than the illness itself. » Tom
Receiving support from family or friends is also not always evident as prejudice is widespread. “Give yourself a good ass-kicking and you’ll soon get better”. Those who have experienced depression have all heard this phrase at least once, and often from well-meaning people…
The workplace is also a place where prejudice is rampant. The business world is associated with values of success and excellence that do not blend well with health problems. But when we are dealing with a mental illness, stigma and lack of understanding are particularly strong. Hostile comments, assumptions and unfavorable innuendo become widespread, while the repercussions can go as far as a blame or an outright dismissal.
Working conditions have changed considerably in recent years: demands for flexibility, responsibility and mobility have become more important; production and information processes have sped up dramatically, work has become more precarious. These changes require adaptation and a capacity to surpass oneself that put employees under increasing psychological pressure. The result is an increase in mental health problems directly related to the difficulties encountered in the workplace: work-related suffering, job strain, substance abuse or suicidal risk.
My friends … They don’t call me “sad”. They don’t call me “sick”. They don’t call me “fool”. They don’t call me.
The increase in mental health problems at work must be a warning signal for our society and for all of us. We must once and for all begin treating people who suffer from mental illness with compassion, respect and dignity. If someone has cancer or must undergo a serious operation, they are blanketed in sympathy and compassion. Those who suffer from schizophrenia, depression, panic attacks, or whose life is ruled by obsessive-compulsive disorders are exposed to indifference, incomprehension or mockery, in addition to suffering by way of losing their jobs, their friends and families.
It’s time we change this.