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The Stigma Around Mental Health

Mental Health • by Paul De Beyer • 21 June 2021

The stigma around mental health and how society treats those who are suffering from it can have devastating consequences.

This uncomfortable truth is something we all need to work towards changing: to empower those who are suffering to feel like they can reach out and get the help they need without fear of discrimination.

Non-GetSavvi Health members can contact the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG). It is Africa's largest mental health support and advocacy group. 

What is stigma?

Stigma is when your distinguishing characteristics or traits, whether those might be something you’re born with or not, are seen in a negative way by society. Unfortunately, this type of negative attitude is extremely prevalent when it comes to people suffering from mental health issues.

What is discrimination?

Discrimination is when you’re treated differently to others because of those distinguishing characteristics or traits, specifically in a negative way. Discrimination is what is done to those who are labeled with society’s stigmas.

A simple example might be “boys don’t cry”, an old adage that men should not show emotion, or they are deemed to be “lesser or weaker” by society. If a man were to act differently, then they would be labelled as less than other men and ultimately treated in a different way to those who follow the generally accepted norm.

Why does this matter?

Stigma, especially around mental health, can have devastating consequences. In a lot of cases, it can:
Create the belief in the person that they’re “less than” others
Block opportunities in life, such as work or relationships
Result in bullying, physical and mental harassment and potentially violence
Form a lack of understanding and acceptance by others in the workplace or at home
Create a reluctance to seek help
Result in a worsening of symptoms and potential self-harm

How can you deal with stigma?

Stand up for someone

Whether it’s at home, in the workplace or out in the world, treat people fairly and with kindness. Be able to see a situation where a certain societal norm is being applied to a person or situation and realise the harm it might cause. Befriend that person and help change perceptions.

Seek help

The fear of seeking help is real, as it could ultimately result in others treating you differently. Don’t let this stigma stop you from getting the help you need. Not only will seeking treatment, like speaking with a medical proffesional, help you deal with any underlying conditions, but it will also help you cope with any stigma surrounding it, both personally and to those around you.

Find your tribe

It’s an odd one, but there’s truth to the thought of “safety in numbers” – flocks and herds of animals employ it all the time. While it doesn’t apply as literally as it might out in the wild, it can be a massive boost to your mental health.

Find a support group or network of people who you can identify and feel safe enough with to share your situation.

Finding your personal support network will help you avoid the dangers of feeling isolated and alone, which can lead to worsening or new mental health concerns.

If you’re a GetSavvi Health member and are struggling with any mental health issues, you have access to help. Simply use your 24-hour Health Advisor benefit to speak to one of our licenced, accredited and trained nurses.

If you’re suffering from depression or anxiety, or are struggling to cope, don’t be afraid to get help

Individuals or professionals you can reach out to:


Mental health: Overcoming the stigma of mental illness
Stigma Influences Seeking Mental Health Care
Free Mental Health Resources in South Africa
Stigma, discrimination and mental illness
9 Ways to Fight Mental Health Stigma
Fight stigma and support mental health
7 ways to overcome mental health stigma

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