Regis Professor Discusses Ways to Combat Mental Health Shaming in HuffPost Article

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Psychiatric nurse makes home visit to a depressed patient.

As society becomes more educated about how devastating mental illness can be to those who suffer from it, the need for psychiatric-mental health nurses has never been greater.

According to the 2015 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 20% of Americans over the age of 18 reported suffering from a mental illness in the prior year. Of that population, an estimated 9.8 million indicated their lives were severely disrupted or limited as a result.

Psychiatric-mental health advanced practice registered nurses (PMH-APRNs) are often the first to assess, diagnose, and treat individuals with a psychiatric disorder. In many cases, they become their patients’ most important advocate.

In addition to helping educate patients’ families and loved ones that a person’s total health begins with their mental health, PMH-APRNs work actively to fight mental health treatment stigma.

Consequences of Mental Health Shaming

In “5 Ways You’re Shaming Mental Illness and May Not Know It,” published in HuffPost, Shari Harding, a Regis College professor, wrote about mental health shaming’s negative impacts on those who need care.

When people speak of mental illness in such a way that makes it sound as if it’s more of a character flaw rather than a serious condition, two things tend to happen. First, those who are experiencing mental health disorders become less inclined to seek treatment. Second, it trivializes the real effects that disorders like schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and depression can have.

Minding words

Experts warn that many people unwittingly engage in mental health shaming. For example, suggesting a highly organized friend suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) only downplays the condition’s seriousness.

Similarly, making comments about being too depressed to go out because a favorite character was written out of a TV show minimizes the effects that major depressive disorder can have on someone’s life.

Mental health professionals suggest that being aware of one’s language is essential in helping to combat stigma.

Insulting and mental health shaming

Many people have experienced times when a friend, roommate, or family member has called a few too many times, but referring to that person as “crazy” or “psycho” tends to perpetuate inaccuracies about mental illness.

Another expert interviewed in the HuffPost article indicated that using off-the-cuff remarks to insult someone, which frequently happens in sports and politics and sometimes among children, furthers the misconception that people who have mental illness should be feared.

Although the person who uses these words may mean no harm, their word choices often hurt those who are experiencing mental illness symptoms.

Ostracizing for mental health issues

Most people would never consider cutting off a friend or family member who has been diagnosed with cancer, but the frequency at which those with mental illness are ostracized by their peers can be significant.

Experts note that while being excluded doesn’t leave physical marks, the psychological pain can be excruciating. The sense of being excluded can also have a negative impact on a person’s self-esteem and sense of belonging, in addition to increasing feelings of depression and unworthiness.

Stigmatizing mental illness

The HuffingtonPost article also warns against judging people who display abnormal behavior, be it online or in real life. In 2007, for example, Britney Spears suffered a well-documented public breakdown. Less than 24 hours after the pop star checked herself into — and then out of — a rehab facility, Spears walked into a California hair salon and asked a stylist to shave her head. When the stylist refused, the pop star picked up a pair of hair clippers and did the job herself.

The backlash on social media was swift, and people were quick to make assumptions and jokes about the star’s mental state. Experts say this type of response can send a harsh, unintended message to anyone who may have experienced a mental health issue, because it communicates that the illness is “amusing” and that someone in crisis doesn’t deserve compassion.

How Nurses and Other Health Care Providers Help Combat Mental Health Shaming

The stigma of mental illness continues to have a profound effect on patients and their families. In addition to impacting diagnosis and treatment, it often prevents people from seeking care.

Education efforts by nurses and other types of health care providers play an important role in reducing the embarrassment, shame, and stigma that are associated with psychiatric disorders.

The more health care professionals can extend the message that mental illness is a brain disease, and that effective treatments exist, the more likely it will be for people with mental illness to seek treatment.

A Career in Psychiatric Nursing Awaits

Professionals who are interested in helping to combat mental health shaming from the front lines may find that pursuing a career as a psychiatric nurse will help them achieve that goal.

The Regis College Online Master of Science in Nursing program has been designed to provide current nurses with the tools they’ll need to expand their skill set, credentials and ability to have a positive impact on the field. Discover how the psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner specialization within the Regis College MSN program can help you master the skills you’ll need to aid patients seeking mental health care.

Recommended Readings
How to Become a Mental Health Nurse
Telehealth: Mental Health Care, Delivered Through the Internet
Climbing to the Top: A Look at Nurse Levels

American Psychiatric Nurses Association, Expanding Mental Health Care Services in America: The Pivotal Role of Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurses
American Psychiatric Nurses Association, Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurses
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Learn about Mental Health
HuffPost, “5 Ways You’re Shaming Mental Illness and May Not Know It”
National Alliance on Mental Illness, Stigma and Discrimination
Psychology Today, Mental Illness and Shame
ScienceDaily, “Pain of Ostracism Can Be Deep, Long-Lasting”
U.S. News & World Report, “Can the Stigma of Mental  Health Care Be Reduced?”
US Weekly, “See How Far Britney Spears Has Come in 10 Years”