Ever Wonder Why You Have Given Up Before You Try?

You Probably Are Self-Stigmatizing Yourself: A Solution to Combatting Self-Stigma


Published by: UI Sehat Mental

People with mental illness remain among the most stigmatized groups in the world today. In Southeast Asia, overpowering beliefs that spirit possession and black magic cause psychological disorders trump over neurological explanations (Nair & Mirtha, 2017), leading people with mental illnesses vulnerable to discrimination and prejudice. Due to these beliefs, these people are, more often than not, considered as dangerous and aggressive. Fear of being ostracized, reluctance in acknowledging the presence of mental health disorders, and shame have become the major barriers to their well-being.

While public stigmatization might have been the most prominent subject that people have been focusing on, self stigmatization poses as another threat. Public stigmatization, the endorsement of negative stereotypes and discrimination by the general public (Göpfert et al., 2019), turns into self-stigma when individuals internalize these negative public attitudes (Corrigan & Rao, 2012). An individual with self-stigma will believe that the public holds prejudice and will discriminate against them because of their label, regardless of the real situation. Thus, even if efforts in promoting mental health and eradicating public stigma have succeeded, the stigma still remains within the individual, making it harder to address.

What are the implications of self-stigma?

In such conservative nations in Southeast Asia, individual with mental illnesses such as depression, bipolar, and schizophrenia are likely to endorse negative stereotypes about themselves, starting from stereotypes of the self (e.g I am dangerous), prejudice (e.g. I am afraid of myself), and resulting in self-discrimination (e.g self-imposed isolation) (Corrigan & Rao, 2012). As they internalize these stereotypes, their low self-esteem and self-efficacy suffer . Feelings of any self-worth go undermined as it goes on. Another issue that may arise is the “why try the effect,” exemplified by such sentiments as “why try to get a job?” and “why should I go to school? They don’t want me there.”(Corrigan, Kosyluk, & Rüsch, 2013). Thus, self-stigma hinders individuals from pursuing their life goals and hinders one from unlocking their potentials. From a clinical point of view, self-stigma is proven to be a barrier to recovery . One study examined self-stigma’s effect on recovery among mental illness over two years, found that more self-stigma at baseline was associated with a significant decrease in recovery after one year (Oexle et al., 2018). On the other side, self-stigma can also affect their help-seeking behavior . An important first step in seeking counseling may involve obtaining information about mental health concerns and treatment options. Researchers have suggested that some people may avoid such information because it is too threatening due to self-stigma and negative attitudes. self-stigma has been found to be an important barrier that we need to fight in order to initiate decisions to seek information about mental health concerns and counseling (Lannin et al ., 2016). Furthermore, the domino effect from self-stigma is described as a path that begins with an individual with mental health need experiencing stigma, that stigma leads to them to not seek the help needed, which then results in decreased resilience –the ‘bounce back’ ability to recover quickly from difficulties (Crowe et al ., 2016).

The fight with self-stigma

As indicated previously, self-stigma is more unyielding to subdue as the belief of which it consists are ingrained within the people. From the perspective that self-stigma is within the individual, it is sensible that a way to truly combat it should come from within the individual as well. Self-empowerment marks to revive the very things that are incapacitated in self-stigmatized individuals: self-esteem and self-efficacy. Self-esteem, to put simply, is the evaluative belief that people have about themselves (Baumeister, 2013), while self-efficacy refers to people’s belief in their power to control events that affect their lives (Bandura, 2010). Inside the individuals who empower themselves, these beliefs are propagated in a way that can help them thrive in life and stay motivated to tackle obstacles in life, especially the ones that harass their inner beliefs.

Furthermore, empowerment is, in a sense, the flip side of stigma , involving power, control, activism, righteous indignation, and optimism and seems to be an effective way of reducing self-stigmatization, encourage people to believe they can achieve their life goals, and circumvent further negative consequences that result from self-stigmatizations (Corrigan & Rao, 2012). A study by Tucker et al (2014) has accumulated a new theory, namely “self-empowerment theory”, that correlates within the context of health. He postulated that engagement is made from motivation, self-efficacy, self-praise, and coping skills to manage emotions that might affect one’s health. Within the context of mental health, however, self empowerment is considered as the reflection of self-efficacy where their confidence is divided into three distinct steps of adolescents which is independent, endorsement, and giving experiences to benefit others (Walkers & Powers, 2007 ) . Another study conducted by Brohan et al. (2011) managed to prove that the relations between empowerment and an increased number of social contacts were both significantly associated with reductions in self-stigma. Within empowerment, 61.7% had moderate to high self-esteem/self-efficacy scores and 26.2% had high power/powerlessness scores, both subscales had adequate internal consistency. Moreover, self-control is also associated with empowerment. As it is a process where individuals gain to control over their lives (Clearly & Zimmerman, 2004). Empowerment also involves engaging in actions and strategies that result in people feeling empowered (Perkins & Zimmerman, 1995). Nevertheless, by engaging in empowering strategies, there is a chance that it might bring greater health satisfaction and provide better self-control.

But, what must be done to fight self-stigma with self-empowerment?

There are ways to build self-empowerment. Some of which consist of developing knowledge about oneself, minimizing judgement about oneself (self-stigmatizing), developing a sense of future, hopes and dreams, as well as developing the pursuit of meaningful life goals for each individual (McCay et al., 2007; Yanos et al., 2015). Moreover, according to McCay et al. (2007), social groups may impact self-stigma and may have a positive impact on psychiatric symptoms and social functioning. This finding suggests that if one wants to be self-empowered, one must surround oneself with good company.

Stigma around mental illnesses has been around for decades. In those decades, stigma has strongly attached itself internally into individuals. But, you can fight it. The question is:

Are you ready to empower yourself in an attempt to combat self-stigma?

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