According to the Mayo Clinical, a stigma is “… when someone views you in a negative way because you have a distinguishing characteristic or personal trait that’s thought to be a disadvantage.” When it comes to mental health, stigma can be found in two categories: an external stigma placed on mental health from society, and an internal stigma the individual feels about his or her self.

Living with a mental health stigma comes with a variety of harmful effects. These can include, but are not limited to:

• Reluctance to seek treatment.

• Lack of understanding from family and friends.

• Fewer opportunities for work, education, social activities and even housing.

• Bullying, physical violence or harassment.

• An internal belief that you will never succeed at certain challenges or improve your current situation.

• Isolation and shame.

Coping with the stigma of having a mental illness is not easy, and it can take an individual’s family or social network to overcome these barriers. There are several strategies that have been successful. Again, this is not a complete list.

• Talk openly about mental illness. In some cases, it is not appropriate to discuss your health — particularly if you are trying to maintain boundaries — but being open about mental health in general is important. Mental illness is common, but often individuals feel as though they are the only ones suffering.

• Educate yourself and others. Mental illness is a combination of psychological factors, biological factors and personal history. It is not a character flaw, punishment or weakness.

• Encourage equality between mental and physical illness. If an individual can see a doctor regarding diabetes, heart disease, a broken bone or similar issue, it should not be shameful for one to visit a therapist for anxiety, psychosis, mania or depression. It’s part of taking care of your health.

• Show compassion. You don’t have to have a mental illness to understand how difficult it is to struggle with one. It’s OK to reach out to someone who is struggling. Also, if you have a mental illness, be compassionate with yourself. Remember mental illness in no way reflects your character, but getting treatment does show how strong you are.

If you are experiencing a mental health issue, please don’t let stigma keep you from receiving treatment. Call a mental health therapist as the first step in obtaining better health.

Coonrod is a licensed professional counselor. If you have a mental health question, please send it to: Mental Health Moment, The Courier, P.O. Box 609 45839.