Impact of Societal Stigma on the Mentally Ailing
Stigma is a set of labels imposed by society on an individual and can lead to their isolation because of avoidance of social situations and fear of rejection. Patients with mental illness have always faced considerable stigma that impairs their functioning and integration into society (Kapungwe et al., 2010). This violates their fundamental human rights (Yamaguchi, Mino & Uddin, 2011).
Under the umbrella of ‘mental illness’ comes a set of individuals with diverse ailments, who unfortunately in today’s era remain outside mainstream society. Due to the culture of stigmatization, these mentally ill patients have to struggle with dual problems, symptoms related to their mental illness, plus the societal stigma (Rüsch, Lieb, Bohus & Corrigan, 2006). According to this study, in African countries such as Nigeria, there is a lack of knowledge and highly stigmatized attitude. Their citizens are not even ready to put up with any social interactions with someone who has mental illness (Kapungwe et al., 2010).
According to Yamaguchi, Mino & Uddin (2011), in German, Chinese and Swedish people the prevalence of stigma associated with mental illness is up to 79%, and in United Kingdom, 14-18% people are afflicted from mental illness but they are less likely to access mental health services due to stigmatized attitude towards them.
In Pakistan, culture and religion plays an imperative role in stigma. Furthermore, it also gives rise to several myths concerning mental illness on the basis of social norms, values and cultural beliefs. Generally patients with mental illness are called mad or crazy, or someone who is trapped by evil demons or it is considered that person must be punished for violating any social and cultural norm (Naeem, Ayub, Gobi & Kingdon, 2009).
Stigmatization breeds low self-esteem and personal growth. Due to the stigmatizing approach of society towards mentally ill patients they face difficulty in getting employment and in maintaining social interactions or relationships. With repetitive disappointments and pessimistic attitude from the community, they begin to feel worthless; this behavior is called self-stigmatization (Sultan, 2011).
According to the social cognitive model of self-stigma, it is connected with lack of hope, self-esteem, self-efficacy and quality of life. In addition, individuals agree with their stereotypes and think that “I am weak and I am solely accountable for my mental illness”. This hinders their treatment and rehabilitation goals. Self-stigma creates shame and fear in an individual that serve as barriers to attaining valued life goals (Mittal, Sullivan, Chekuri, Allee & Corrigan, 2012).
Mentally ill patients are equal part of society but sadly they are viewed differently by the community. Health care workers, who are otherwise acknowledged for their humble behavior, illustrate discriminating behavior with psychiatric clients. In some cultures mental illness is correlated with black magic and witch craft but health care workers should remember that there is no correlation between medical knowledge, cultural beliefs and health workers attitudes’ toward mentally ill. Hence, they should demonstrate positive behavior while dealing with mentally ill patients regardless of any cultural beliefs (Ewhrudjakpor, 2009).
At present, stigma against mental illness is emerging as a serious issue. Therefore, awareness and educational interventions should be made to minimize stigmatizing attitudes against mental illness (Yamaguchi, Mino & Uddin, 2011). Mental illness is a burden for the patient and family but this burden can be reduced with the support of family and one can obtain better mental treatment for his illness (van Zelst, 2009).
As for recommendations, psycho-education of patients and relatives is the top strategy to diminish stigmatizing attitude towards mental illness. Hence it is essential for the psychologist to advocate how to distinguish between negative symptoms and consequences of stigmatization that will be helpful in coping strategies (van Zelst, 2009). Government should make policies to eradicate discriminating behavior towards mentally ill patients. In addition, with the collaboration of non- governmental organizations, government can organize awareness campaigns for the youngsters on stigma of mental illness that will help these patients to access better mental care.
In conclusion, stigma can cause isolation of one from the society and its consequences may hold back an individual to obtain his basic rights. Many cultural myths exist surrounding mental illness, which may have a detrimental impact on patients. Furthermore, social cognitive model has enlightened on how self-stigmatization prevents self-realization in patients. Finally, strategies have been proposed to overcome stigma with mental illness and to help these patients to cope with their illness.
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