Stigma in Seeking Help

The following article was written by Sam George that was published by an Indian paper in the US.

We begin a new series on counseling. Typically, those who need it do not like talking about it. Everyone wants to believe they will never have to seek any counseling and it is meant for others. Many suffer silently, hopelessly, and do not know where to turn. What a tragedy!

No one is exempt from problems. Everyone has some form of familial difficulty through every stage of  life.  Oftentimes, the trouble does not come with prior notice; it simply shows up at our doorstep unannounced. Often it comes when we least expect it or are ready to face it. It leaves a trail of pain and victims wherever it goes. Some struggle with serious mental illness, hoping things will automatically improve.

It is sad to see many individuals and families struggle alone. Immigrant families do not have a support system like they do back home. They are predisposed to many kinds of dysfunctionality due to cultural adjustments and value conflicts. They do not know what help they must seek or where to get it. One of the major barriers to seeking help is the stigma associated with counseling.

The word stigma originated in ancient Greece and is derived from a word meaning ‘to mark someone.’ The Dictionary defines stigma as a mark of disgrace or reproach. Stigma is not simply the use of negative labels, but is disrespectful toward people with mental illness. Furthermore, stigma encourages fear, mistrust, and gossip against people with mental illness.

Stigma keeps us from sharing our problems with our colleagues because they might judge us as incompetent at work. We cannot share problems with our family back home because they probably cannot fathom our context or offer any meaningful help. We cannot share with anyone in the community for they may isolate us and label us as a “troubled” family.

Stigma primarily arises out of ignorance. Many correlate mental illness with going “mad”. Traditionally, people do not want to associate with mentally ill persons. These mentally ill people get isolated in society and nobody will ever seek alliances from a family with members having mental problems. Fear of being cut off and limiting future prospects keeps us from seeking any help.

Mental health and behavioral issues are not recognized as medical problems in many Asian cultures. Medication and hospitalization are a last resort, if available. Family members are often shunned or hidden from the public if they are believed to have a mental or behavioral illness. Popular media portrays people with mental illness and relational problems with negative terms.

Most individual and family problems do not require psychiatric medication or prolonged treatment. Moreover, mental health science has grown significantly in the past few decades and could provide decisive help for people struggling with serious illness. More insight into mental problems and medications are available today than in our parent’s age.

Get help. Don’t let your problems overwhelm you. Seek a trained professional who will be able to guide and navigate you through your troubles. A professional counselor can quickly detect the extent of the problem and escalate your case to appropriate next steps. A basic level of counseling should be able to ease many behavioral and relational issues.