PIERRE – Most people with mental illness face stigmas at some point. Stigmas can occur when people harbor negative views about things they might not fully understand. Stigmas can arise among friendships, within families, or inside social groups such as co-workers.
Stigmas can be particularly damaging when people begin to internalize an uninformed position and start believing the negative stereotypes that have been developed. Encountering stigmas can be a barrier to recovery as they can increase the incidence of depression, reduce one’s sense of self-esteem, or lead an individual to isolation.
“While we will never be able to eliminate barriers, we want to do all that we can to assist individuals to overcome them,” DSS Cabinet Secretary Matt Althoff said. “When we can eliminate stigmas associated with mental illness and, in turn, encourage people to reach out for help, we are working toward DSS’s goals of assuring access to assistance for all of those in need. The more we discuss the existence of and challenges associated with a person’s poor mental health, the more assistance we can provide individuals in overcoming the barrier of stigma.”
Addressing self-stigma through supportive interactions with loved ones can also be impactful because statements and actions from people who care usually have a larger impact.
Here are a few tips for loved ones to guide the conversation in addressing self-stigma.
Try to Understand
Seek to understand the impact it may have on your loved one. If you may have made stigmatizing comments, even if unintentionally, try to recognize this. If it has happened, apologize. An apology can be an invaluable tool to someone hindered by stigma.
Educate yourself by using credible resources and facts to objectively prove that examples of stigma are false.
Self-stigma is more about how it makes your loved one feel rather than whether it is reasonable for them to believe the stereotype to be true. Be careful not to dismiss their feelings by saying things like “you shouldn’t feel that way” or “why do you feel that way?” as these statements may leave your loved one feeling defensive.
Simply listen and most importantly, empathize and validate their emotions. If there is silence or a reply seems natural, use active listening: https://www.ccl.org/articles/leading-effectively-articles/coaching-others-use-active-listening-skills/.
Stigma is a huge barrier on why many people don’t seek help. Approaching the conversation with compassion and careful language can help your loved one feel supported in finding professional help to make them feel better.
To find a community-based mental health provider in your area, visit https://dss.sd.gov/behavioralhealth/agencycounty.aspx. Services can be in-person or via telehealth and financial assistance is available. If you are worried about your loved one and need immediate support, call or text 988 or chat online at 988lifeline.org/chat with a trained crisis counselor.