Many people from different cultures, socio-economic backgrounds and religions have developed negative ideas about mental health problems and illnesses. This is called mental health stigma. It leads to discrimination and mistreatment of those experiencing mental health problems or illnesses, and prevents people from looking for help when they are in need.
You probably have memories of people in your community who were isolated or mistreated. Most of the time, the discrimination and mistreatment of people who suffer mental illness is the result of a lack of knowledge and understanding. This can lead to fear and aggression.
Every culture has its own way of explaining mental health and mental illness.
Some cultures might believe that mental illness is:
- a “curse” on the person because of their difficult behaviour, their thinking, talking or how they relate to others
- an imbalance in the heart
- punishment for bad behaviour in past lives
- punishment for bad things done by ancestors
- the result of bad karma, witchcraft or the influence of an evil person
We learn and believe ideas about causes, treatments and outcomes of mental illness from our cultures. It shapes our understanding of what can help or what can’t help. It is important to think about these ideas and notice if they are helpful or they are obstacles to getting support from family, community and, when it is needed, help from professionals.
Fortunately, there has been a change in the way mental illness is understood.
Because of scientific research, now we know that:
- there are connections between the way the brain works and mental disorders
- people’s upbringing, their experiences, nutritional and physical health play very important roles in mental health
- gender, race, socio-economic status, sexual orientation and age create conditions that either protect or put people at risk of developing mental illness
- violence, loss and daily social and economic pressures affect people’s mental health
Every day there is new information about the causes of mental illness and treatments.
It is important to challenge negative ideas and attitudes about mental illness – they are misguided and cause pain for all who are affected by or suffering from mental illness. Understanding mental health will help us open our hearts, not just to support others going through difficult times, but also to take care of our own well-being.
We all want to belong to a caring community. It is our responsibility to treat people with empathy and respect, especially when they are facing difficult times and need support.