Stigma – the societal phenomenon where certain groups are labeled as “other” and usually “less than” – includes feelings of: hatred, fear, and pity.
To me, pity and the low expectations that come with it, can actually be more insidious and damaging than the first two feelings. (I plan on write more posts soon that go more in depth into mental health stigma and its damaging effects.) But for now, I’d like to focus on “hatred and fear” and what we can do about them directly.
Hatred and fear seem like strong words. These words cover a general spectrum of often unconscious feelings people have towards others with a mental health condition. And people can have very conscious attitudes of hatred and fear towards the mentally ill. This is what results in actual prejudice, which can limit a person’s to find a good marriage partner, or get a certain job he or she is qualified and able to perform in, or a number of other unpleasant things.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably not one of “those” people. But biases can be unconscious. Maybe we advocate for, or even treat people with mental illness and addiction issues. How can we know we are unaffected by societal attitudes? The answer is: You probably are. But being aware of just how much we are influenced by society can help us properly adjust for that, and act towards those with mental illness in a way that reflects integrity and compassion – the same way we would want to treat anyone else. Being aware of our own implicit stigma bias increases our ability to affect positive change within our greatest sphere of influence: ourselves.
For therapists this test is extremely important, as we have dedicated ourselves to helping those with mental health challenges. If we fear and hate our own clients, even on a subconscious level, our work with them is obviously going to be hampered.
Do you have subconscious stigma against your mentally ill clients? You may find it hard to say for sure.
Fortunately, it is now possible to measure our”implicit stigma bias,” our unconscious attitude towards people with mental illness. The good folks at Harvard have developed a test that has been proven to measure unconscious attitudes and biases. A test takes about 15 minutes to complete. You might surprise yourself.
Here’s the link to Project Implicit’s section on mental health issues, designed to measure your uncontrolled reactions when you think about anxiety, depression, alcohol, eating disorders, or persons with mental illness: Project Implicit Mental Health Bias Tests
Would be happy to see your opinions and reactions to the test.
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