In this day and age, we are connected in more ways than ever before. We have been making strides to raise awareness of anxiety, depression, and suicide both in our communities and on social media—so why does it seem like mental illness is still so difficult to talk about, and more people are not getting the help they need? Read on to learn about the social stigmas currently surrounding mental health in the United States and what we can do to create meaningful change.
What is Stigma?
Stigma refers to the negative way in which our society views a particular topic. Individuals who experience the stigmatized condition are often looked down upon within society. This affects their social status and further contributes to the structural and institutional discrimination that could lead to isolation, substance use, trouble with the justice system, self-harm behaviors, or even suicide.
The key features of stigma include, but are not limited to:
- An agreed-upon belief by a community that constitutes what is considered normal versus abnormal within society.
- A communal judgment that applies for a lower class status upon the stigmatized group.
- The discrimination of a specific group can affect one’s socioeconomic prosperity, mental health, and overall quality of life.
How Do We Reduce the Stigma Associated with Mental Illness?
Raise Awareness for Resources
Social stigma related to mental illness is deeply rooted in the framework of society and the attitude cultures have towards it. To combat stigma, we must first understand the processes that created it, including how it becomes entrenched in our social and cultural identities.
Every community is different. The attitudes surrounding mental illness and suicide can vary based on the cultural make-up, ethnicity—and even access to funding for mental health resources. There have been promising results that show an increase in resilience to stress, and reductions in depression, anger, substance abuse, and risk of incarceration when public health efforts incorporate cultural strengths and beliefs—such as those of Indigenous populations—into their programs. These beliefs include the importance of family, community, spirituality, and group identity.
Here are 5 simple ways you can help reduce the stigma around mental illness:
- Educate yourself.
Make a conscious effort to educate yourself about the misconceptions that surround mental illness. Knowledge is power and can help break down barriers associated with mental illness.
- Educate others.
Pass on facts, positive attitudes, and behaviors while challenging myths and stereotypes; counter inaccurate information with facts and data.
- Be supportive.
People who have mental illness do not want to be defined by their diagnosis. Treat everyone with and respect; offer support and encouragement.
- Be conscious of your language.
Language matters. Watching the way you speak about mental health and suicide, as well as refraining from using health conditions as adjectives can be one of the first steps toward destigmatizing the conversation around mental illness.
- Be a good role model.
Model these stigma-reducing strategies through your own comments and behavior while politely teaching them to others. Spread the word that treatment works and recovery is possible. Changing attitude takes time, but repetition is key, so it’s important to bring about a positive shift in how we treat others.
Together we can raise awareness around mental illnesses and reduce the stigma surrounding them.
At the Yavapai Justice and Mental Health Coalition, we are passionate about delivering mental health initiatives that will transform the lives of people in our community. Visit our website to learn more about our efforts and how you can get involved.
Our childhood experiences shape who we become as adults. And a “normal” childhood isn’t always the case for many of us. Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can play a significant role in our health, access to basic needs, and even justice system involvement. Learn more about ACEs and their effect below.
What Are Adverse Childhood Experiences?
Childhood has its ups and downs, but some children experience severe trauma at a young age. Adverse childhood experiences can include, but are not limited to:
- Abuse, including domestic violence and sexual abuse.
- Neglect, either emotional or physical.
- Substance use or alcoholism in the household.
- Having an incarcerated family member, especially a parent.
- Parental separation, or divorce.
How Do Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Impact Development?
Scary or traumatic events trigger our fight or flight response, causing our body to release cortisol in preparation for action. Long-term exposure to stress can have significant negative effects on our body—especially for children who may not know how to process or express their emotions. Adverse childhood experiences can negatively impact an individual’s health and wellness, including:
- Alcoholism and/or substance use.
- Heart and/or liver disease.
- Intimate partner violence.
- Suicide attempts.
ACEs may also increase the likelihood of a person’s involvement with the justice system. A study by Edalati et al. found that “a history of childhood physical abuse has been found to significantly increase the risk of delinquent behaviors, arrest, incarceration, and negative police encounters among homeless individuals.”
How to Offset the Impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences
The CDC-Kaiser ACE Study found that two-thirds of participants had experienced at least one ACE, while 20% reported experiencing three or more ACEs during their childhood. The more ACEs an individual is exposed to, the more likely they are to experience negative outcomes, including involvement in the justice system.
Creating a loving, nurturing environment for children can help offset an ACEs’ impact and encourage positive development. The study by Edalati et al. also underscores the importance of community support: “intervention efforts should include not only providing housing services, but also implementing community-based interventions, treating mental illness and substance use problems, and addressing family and employment problems.”
At the Yavapai Justice and Mental Health Coalition, we believe that holistic, collaborative community efforts will provide multiple opportunities for lives to transform. Visit our website to learn more about our efforts.
The Over-Representation of Mental Illness and Substance Use Disorders in the Criminal Justice System
Inmates with mental illnesses and/or substance use disorders are significantly over-represented in the criminal justice system. Read on to learn more about why this is occurring, and how the County of Yavapai Justice and Mental Health Coalition aims to help.
A Complex Combination of Social Issues
The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that between 25%–40% of inmates within the United States justice system have a mental illness, with 60%–80% of them having a co-occurring substance use disorder. In order to understand why there are so many inmates with mental illnesses and/or substance use disorders, it’s important to understand the challenges they face within the larger community such as the social determinants of health, their access to resources, and more.
The social determinants of health refer to the social and economic factors which influence the health of individuals and their larger community. These factors include income, access to social support systems, education level, living conditions, and so much more. Many of these social issues are directly related to mental illness and substance use disorders. And although these social issues do not directly cause criminal behavior, they significantly increase the likelihood that an individual will be involved in the criminal justice system. Therefore, addressing the overrepresentation of mental illness and substance use disorders in the criminal justice system requires a community-led approach to reduce the contributing social and economic factors.
Additional Challenges Within the Criminal Justice System
Once incarcerated, inmates with mental illnesses or substance use disorders face additional challenges that further entrench them within the criminal justice system. Many inmates with mental illnesses are incarcerated for longer, and have more conflicts with other inmates/correctional staff. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, approximately 50% of inmates in the United States have a substance use disorder, but many of them do not receive proper treatment. Inmates with mental illnesses and/or substance use disorders also often have a higher rate of recidivism post-incarceration.
What We’re Doing To Help
We know that addressing complex social issues requires a collaborative effort. The County of Yavapai Justice and Mental Health Coalition brings together community leaders and stakeholders from multiple systems, including mental health, substance abuse, law enforcement, housing services, and more.
Our goal is to provide inmates with mental illnesses and/or substance use disorders with appropriate treatment, as well as improve their access to recovery support, housing, and employment services to decrease recidivism. Visit our website to learn more.