FIFO Life Part 17: Do you have Self-Stigma?

FIFO Focus joins Big Al as part of the REDFM series FIFO Life.

In part 17, Katrina Chapman discusses self-stigma and what you can do to manage it.

What is self-stigma?

Stigma around mental illness is the belief that a discrediting characteristic, behaviour or negative perception, is associated with a particular set of mental health concerns or symptoms. This creates a stereotype linking these beliefs to an individual or situation. When you believe this stereotype, it can impact your personal attitudes and behaviours resulting in prejudice being directed towards yourself and/or others.

“I believe and therefore I am”

Self-stigma, specifically, is the application of this stereotype towards yourself. The awareness of the negative stereotype, when accepted, can create a prejudice that causes negative emotional responses and behaviours resulting in self-discrimination. That is, a set of ideas or behaviours that negatively impact your ability to engage positively with your concerns impacting how you see yourself, your personal opportunities and your ability to seek help with a given situation.

The impact of self-stigma – what we need to understand

The process of internalising a stereotype and letting it control your perception can be unconscious. That means, you may not even need to know that you believe something to be true for it to have control on your life and how you view yourself. Self-stigma causes a reluctance to talk about mental health concerns and can subsequently increase your symptoms of mental illness the longer they go unmanaged. This can have detrimental effects on your personal and professional relationships and has been known to negatively impact an individual’s self-esteem, as well as their belief in themselves and their abilities.

So how can we control something that we don’t know has control of us? It is important to note here that having awareness of a particular stigma does not automatically assume you will internalise it. The good news is if you have awareness of how self-stigma is internalised you are able to manage this process to release the control it has on you.

How does self-stigma occur?

The process that an individual goes through to develop self-stigma can be modelled using the three A’s:

  • Awareness,
  • Agreement, and
  • Application

This is awareness of a stereotype; an agreement with the stereotype and an application of this stereotype to self. An example of this can be found in the stereotypes that surround depression. Let’s take a known stereotype that exists today – many males in FIFO believe people with depression are weak.

Stepping through the three A’s we can get a better understanding of how this stereotype may be applied to create self-stigma.

Awareness of the stereotype: The first step is becoming aware of the stereotype; this may be a societal view, or a view within a workplace or social group.

ie. “most people with depression are weak”

Agreement with the stereotype: Once you are aware of the stigma, the second step to internalising this as self-stigma is agreeing with the stereotype. This can happen consciously, however more often than not this can be an unconscious process.

ie. “I agree (or) I believe; most people with depression are weak”

Application of this stereotype to yourself: the final step to this process is applying this belief to self. You may be experiencing mental health concerns and see yourself in a negative way.

Ie. “I have depression; therefore, I must be weak”

Due to the detrimental effects self-stigma can have on those with mental illness, learning ways to reduce this negative self-reflection can improve overall mental health and personal wellbeing.

So how do we reduce self-stigma?

Being aware of a stereotype about you, does not mean you agree with the stereotype. Your level of agreeableness to the stigma and self-identification with the metal health concern will dictate your response to your awareness. Challenging stigma and your beliefs around mental illness is the first step breaking down the barriers and reducing the occurrence of self-stigma. So here are our tips to manage self-stigma – the three C’s:

Create factual Awareness: Ask yourself; while the stereotype exists, is it actually fact? Learn about mental illness around concerns you may have. Replace existing thoughts around the stigma with factual information.

ie. “Having depression does not make you weak”

Challenge your Agreement: Based on your new knowledge around a particular mental illness, can you challenge the stereotype so you no longer agree?

ie. “I believe having depression does not make you weak”

Consciously modify your Application: Ask yourself, what behaviours do I have that may be contradicting my new belief surrounding this stigma, and reframe your thinking.

ie. “While I may have depression; this is not a weakness”

Following these steps will help you be more aware of how stigma is impacting your perception of self or others around you. We urge you to learn more about mental health and when it can present as a concern or illness and challenge your thinking.

Where to from here?

Practising this process of challenging the three A’s with the three C’s will help you create awareness around your personal stereotypes and how you apply these to self. If you have any mental health concerns or you need help working through a particular problem please speak to your GP, your EAP provider or contact us for more information.

Further reading

Corrigan, P. W., Kerr, A., & Knudsen, L. (2005). The stigma of mental illness: Explanatory models and methods for change. Applied and Preventive Psychology, 11, 179-190. doi:10.1016/j.appsy.2005.07.001
Corrigan, P. W., & Watson, A. C. (2002). The paradox of self-stigma and mental Illness. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 9, 35-53. doi:10.1093/clipsy.9.1.35
Corrigan, P. W., Watson, A. C., & Barr, L. (2006). The self-stigma of mental illness: Implications for self-esteem and self-efficacy. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 25, 875-884. doi:10.1521/jscp.2006.25.8.875
Self-Stigma and the three A’s (Corrigan, Mueser, Bond, Drake & Solomon, 2012, p. 37-46)
Corrigan, P. W., Mueser, K. T., Bond, G. R., Drake, R. E., & Solomon, P. (2012). Principles and practice of psychiatric rehabilitation: An empirical approach. Guildford Press.

The content in this post is for informational purposes only and should not be taken as medical advice. We recommend consulting with a registered health practitioner or contacting us for more tailored support.

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