The High Cost of Stigma

Mental Health Blog Party BadgeGood mental health is something that we all strive for.  Happiness in life has long been a pursuit of people in the West.  And yet, despite our desire for optimum happiness and good mental health, many feel unable to discuss psychological problems.

In a recent interview, I talked with author Stacy Pershall (Loud in the House of Myself) about her hesitation to admit to the diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder.  In her book, she discusses the stigma and hopelessness that is particularly connected with a diagnosis of BPD.  It was not that long ago (the 1980’s and early 90’s) that BPD was considered by many to be an incurable disease.

Now, with DBT, the diagnosis of BPD is slowly losing some of its stigma. People with BPD are able to get help and make major improvements in their lives.

According to the National Alliance on Mentally Illness (NAMI) stigma is an attempt to label a particular group of people as less worthy of respect than others.  The emotional dysregulation, frantic attempts to avoid abandonment, strained interpersonal relationships and impulsive and often dangerous behaviors that are characteristics of Borderline Personality Disorder have made it a particular target for stigma.

Many groups experience some degree of stigma—for example, women, the elderly, people who are economically disadvantaged and people of different races.  The stigma associated with mental health problems causes people to hide their problems and fear the exposure that getting treatment would require.

Stigma is about disregard and disapproval.  Stigma is about disrespect.

Being a part of a stigmatized group is difficult.  Stigma can keep people from seeking help—nearly two thirds of all people with a diagnosable mental illness do not seek treatment.  Stigma leads to inadequate insurance coverage, discrimination in many areas, including the workplace and fear.  People with a mental illness often fear disclosure, fear the rejection of friends and fear violence and prejudice if they reveal themselves.

Stigma disgraces and discredits, leaving a person ashamed and isolated.

Changing Stigma:

Education is the key to changing stigma about psychological problems.  Publications, anti-stigma campaigns, discussions in mental health and other health professions, such as nursing, can reduce the impact of stigma.  Fear can be reduced by bringing education to families and schools, workplaces and community centers.  Talking and sharing stories in a supportive environment can help people overcome their fear of the unknown and put a face to mental illness.

This blog post is a part of APA’s Mental Health Blog Party and is dedicated to all those who have sought treatment and overcome stigma to get help for and recover from a mental illness.  It is also dedicated to those two-thirds of all people who have not yet sought treatment.

4 Replies to “The High Cost of Stigma”

  1. I would disagree that the diagnosis of BPD is losing some of its stigma. It’s certainly not losing stigma within the health care field in general, and I would argue some of the worst stigma is perpetuated by the mental health care field itself. Read the online psych nursing forums and check the comments made about patients with BPD. Having worked in the health care field for many years, I have heard and seen a lot. I have seen how patients with this diagnosis are set up for failure because of the attitudes that many (if not most) health care workers have about patients with this diagnosis before they’ve ever even met the patient.

    Ask ER docs off the record what their opinion is about this diagnosis and you’ll get an earful. If I were diagnosed with BPD, I would never tell another health care professional – not after what I’ve heard them say.

    1. Maybe my view that BPD is less stigmatized is skewed because of the professionals I work with in DBT. I hear much less of the judgmental, hopeless talk than I did 20 years ago. It could be who I’m talking to, rather than an overall change. I’m sorry to hear that stigmatizing people diagnosed with BPD is still so prevalent.

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