The stigma of social anxiety is no different from the stigma surrounding any other mental health disorder. Although the form of stigma may be slightly different from the stigma used to fight schizophrenia or borderline personality disorder (BPD), the result is the same—people are ashamed of problems they have little control over.
In terms of Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD), the thing people fear most—the negative evaluations of others—has become reality. Their own thoughts made them worry endlessly about what others thought was not enough, but now they have confirmed that people do have a negative view of them.
Although we live in an era where many mental illnesses (including social anxiety disorder) can be effectively treated, people still have not received treatment for months, years, decades, or even their entire lives. This is an unfortunate situation, and it can only be reversed by putting mental health at the forefront of health care and public awareness.
What is stigma?
Let’s step back a bit. What is stigma? In the simplest sense, stigma refers to devaluing someone based on certain characteristics. We may generally think that stigma is related to having a specific ethnic background or coming from a specific economic class.
In the case of mental illness, stigma may exist among the general public, but also among healthcare professionals. In this way, if you think of a person with social anxiety disorder, they may be criticized by friends and family for poor social performance, and may face a doctor who ignores symptoms or ignores them.
Stigma can also be thought to be related to the behavior of the sick or seeking treatment.
People with SAD may be stigmatized for showing symptoms of social anxiety, but they may also be stigmatized for asking for help to solve a problem that some people may think “all in their head” or that everyone is dealing with change.
The stigma of social anxiety
We’ve talked about this a little bit, but the stigma of social anxiety often involves the idea that social anxiety is normal and avoidable. It’s just shy after all, right? You may face arrogant attitudes from friends or family members who do not believe that anxiety is a real problem, and you should be able to “overcome it” on your own.
Among children and adolescents, there may even be bullying or cruel behavior as part of the stigma against people with social anxiety. Some people may choose to belittle a child or teenager they think is weak or socially awkward, rather than feel sympathy.
What is the impact of stigma?
Unfortunately, the effects of stigma associated with social anxiety disorder are numerous. The following is a list of some of the most pressing issues caused by stigma.
The issue of self-esteem. According to a 2015 study, people who are stigmatized due to social anxiety are more likely to experience low self-esteem, low self-efficacy, and poor quality of life. American Journal of Psychiatry.
Non-evidence-based treatment. When a disease is not well diagnosed or not diagnosed, this may lead a person to seek alternative treatments that may not be scientifically based.
Failed to seek treatment. Most people with social anxiety disorder dare not admit that they have a problem, and stigma only makes the situation worse. You may worry that admitting that you have a problem will affect your work and relationships.
Misdiagnosed. Stigma can cause doctors to misdiagnose SAD, especially if they do not take the symptoms of the disease seriously, or do not ask about them at all (after all, what kind of social anxiety patient might ask this question themselves)? Public and health professionals may not see social anxiety disorder as a disorder, or think it is just normal shyness.
Poor management. Stigma can prevent doctors from fully investigating symptoms or lead to inadequate understanding of appropriate treatment.
Cause care barriers. People with social anxiety disorder may internalize external stigma, making them less likely to seek treatment. If you start to feel sad about your feelings, you will be less willing to admit that you have a problem and try to ask for help.
Create an unsupported environment. Mental health problems are best treated in a supportive atmosphere. The stigma creates an environment of lack of support, making it difficult to seek help. If you have a mental health problem, support is key, especially in the early stages. Imagine being a person with SAD, calling your doctor and being criticized by the receptionist?
Suicidal ideation. In the worst case, a person may feel unable to get help and suicidal thoughts due to stigma, especially if SAD is combined with other mental health problems (such as depression or bipolar disorder).
Source of stigma
We can begin to better understand how to eliminate stigma by understanding the causes of stigma. Generally speaking, the main cause of stigma is lack of understanding. This lack of understanding may be because a person has never experienced a mental illness themselves, or because they do not know the type of mental disorder that exists (or social anxiety disorder is one of them).
How to reduce stigma
Now, we have the most important information-how can we reduce the stigma associated with social anxiety disorder? Unfortunately, this is not a simple solution and requires a change of attitude through education. Here are some steps you, the public, and mental health professionals can take to try to reduce the impact of stigma:
Public service messages. Yes, that’s right-ancient public service information. Think of these as better advertisements. If they go out and are heard enough, the information will begin to spread. Although in the past these were usually on TV or radio, new media and social media provided many channels to convey information. When was the last time you shared a mental health post on your Facebook, Twitter or Instagram account?
Talk about your struggles. Oops! It may sound scary, but imagine if everyone with SAD told another person what they experienced. The elephant in the room may end up with a “poof”, and the chaos hidden in the shadows may see some light. When was the last time you told a story about social anxiety? You may be surprised at who can be connected or who may have a story.
Encourage people to read more. Yes, it really can be that simple. Encourage your friends, family, colleagues, and neighbors to read true stories about mental illness. These books can be eye-opening experiences, especially for those who have never experienced these things firsthand. If you are a family member of a mentally ill person, please read these books yourself.
Share your experience as a celebrity. Thank you Donny Osmond, Barbra Streisand, Zack Greinke, Jonathan Knight and others for sharing your struggles candidly. If you are a celebrity with social anxiety disorder, please tell about your experience or write a book. People respect you and you have the opportunity to help reduce the stigma surrounding this disease.
Open your heart. This applies to everyone, but let’s target the public and mental health professionals. Open to the public-accept that not everyone experiences the possibilities of life like you. Willing to learn and understand the struggles of mental patients. For mental health professionals-be open to the possibility that people sitting in your office may have different problems and they may not share. Ask questions about the symptoms of social anxiety and take the answers seriously.
Break the silence. Around the world, let us work hard to break the silence about social anxiety disorder and mental health of all mental illnesses. Let us follow in the footsteps of countries such as Australia and the United Kingdom, which are striving to make mental health care and treatment a part of daily care.
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Are you motivated to reduce the stigma of social anxiety and mental illness? Or do you have undiagnosed social anxiety disorder and would like to have the opportunity to share your story and get help? Regardless of your situation, there are many “baby steps” you can take to help reduce stigma or move towards self-disclosure. Consider your options, choose the smallest steps you can take to move you in the right direction, and then take action.