Whichever way you chose to look at it, stigma is an individual characteristic that can be overcome through changing your own thoughts and beliefs about yourself and others. The key to overcoming the stigma for having a mental health difficulty is taking full responsibility, and therefore control, for how you feel.
To gain a better understanding of the Science of Stigma lets take a brief look at some of the concepts within Social Psychology. This is defined as the scientific study of how peoples’ thoughts, feelings and behaviour are influenced by the actual, imagined, or implied presence of others (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_psychology).
Schemas demonstrate how good our minds are at linking concepts together. You might think about the subject of Mental Health. Schemas organise links in our minds to think up categories around that subject. When we think of mental health we might think of Doctors, Hospital, Medication, Social Worker, Stigma. These Schemas can be very helpful – e.g. Thinking of the Doctor will remind us of an important Dr’s appointment you have in the morning. However you can also have Schemas about your relationships with others and yourself and this is where Schemas can begin to play a negative role, especially within the field of Stigma. A mental health patient may begin to believe that others think you are weird which may lead to you beginning to think of yourself as weird. This is where you have to have the strength of mind to ensure you are thinking positive things about yourself.
It’s likely you have heard the term Stereotype before. By definition a Stereotype is the ‘beliefs about the attributes, characteristics and behaviours of members of various groups’. Our worry as Mental Health Patients is that we are Stereotyped as Schemas speed up the way others think and we are categorised as weird, crazy, strange etc. We must put our opinions of ourselves before the opinion of others. After all, what do others know about us, compared to what we know about ourselves.
When it comes to Schemas we use the one that is at the forefront of our minds. So, part of our job in order to get over the Stigma, and take control of our thoughts, is to shift the priority of good schemas in our minds. We can do that using something called Priming. We will discuss this more in Part 2…