Self-stigma occurs when patients agree with and internalize social stereotypes. It tends to affect them in three ways, says Amy Watson, PhD, assistant professor of the Jane Adams College of Social Work, University of Illinois at Chicago:
•Patients develop feelings of low self-esteem and become less willing to seek or adhere to treatment.
• Patients anticipate that they will be discriminated against, and to protect themselves they limit their social interactions and fail to pursue work and housing opportunities.
While there are no proven ways to alleviate self-stigma, Watson says raising the issue of self-stigma and countering inaccurate stereotypes is the first step. “The more awareness there is of mental-illness stigma, the less it is perceived as legitimate,” she says. She also urges mental-illness patients to use cognitive tools, such as challenging their own assumptions about what they are capable of and not listening to internal stereotypes.