Coping with stigma, bettering brain

Rebecca Troescher

Battling pre-conceived notions

First-year and psychology major Marissa Rozario experiences the effects of depression and anxiety on a daily basis, and she is learning how to cope with that.
Rozario is not alone when she opens up about her day-to-day challenges facing mental health conditions.

Many individuals struggle with similar issues and battle the sigma that accompanies their condition.

Dr. Marcia Webb, a Seattle Pacific University professor of psychology, highlighted that “according to the World Health Organization, depression is one of the greatest causes of suffering around the globe,” especially among college students.

A major battle is fought against the stigma surrounding mental health. As Webb explained it, “mental health stigma involves inaccurate or incomplete and distorted perceptions of mental health conditions,” which deeply harms those who suffer from these conditions.

These perceptions are constantly at work through stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination.

Those who struggle with them spend a great deal of time trying to dissociate themselves from the negative perceptions people carry with them about those suffering with mental health conditions.

This includes avoiding helpful treatment to withstand the judgment and the negative stereotypes of those struggling with mental illness within society.

“Mental health stigma can by itself include tendencies toward self-doubt,” Webb noted.
Self-doubt can then worsen and integrate itself into one’s self-understanding, a concept known as self-stigma.

Mental health stigma in the U.S. is more prevalent than it has been in decades, which is surprising due to the amount of research conducted over the previous centuries in order to build a greater understanding on its effects.

Saya Meza | The Falcon

One reason may be from the increased prevalence of mental health issues in media.
“Before, people were less likely to be exposed to stigmatized portrayals of people with these conditions,” Webb said.

It is as if media contributes to the distorted portrayals of mental health victims. To challenge media portrayals, first-year Erin Murphy, a nursing major, highlights that “people often assume that people with mental health conditions are violent, [although] they are more often the victims of violence.”

In order to portray individuals suffering with mental health conditions in an authentic way, as phrased by Webb, how can one help reduce the stigma that surrounds mental health?

As suggested by Rozario, “It’s always important to have someone to talk to, … finding a counselor, finding a therapist, having a lot of friends that can support you.”
Webb reassured, supported by research, that a person’s stigma about mental illness can be tamed when they discover someone with whom they can relate to. Connecting with a complex, human being diminishes the negative stereotypes attached to a person.

“I love that,” Webb commented. “The power of simple human connection.”
Helping the issue would mean to help each other. Even for one who is not familiar with the severity of the issue, human guidance and support can help.

“It is such an overlooked issue,” admitted Rozario, “and a lot of people who have these issues are looked over, … dismissed.”

A way in which Rozario copes with the issue is reminding herself that indeed her struggles are real, but that “there’s so much more to life than what you struggle with.”
As for how to better address mental health issues within a community like SPU, Webb stressed that we help friends, relatives, neighbors, dorm-mates — “people we love, and even ourselves,” in order to help those around us.