Stigma is an attribute, behaviour, or reputation which is socially discrediting in a particular way. Stigma causes an individual to be mentally classified by others as an undesirable, rejected person.
But stigma associated with mental illness is not faced by the patient alone! Also families of people with mental health issues face stigma by association with the stigmatized.
Caregivers of persons with symptoms of mental illness find it difficult to avoid stigma.
Often caregivers perceive this stigma or may even believe that they deserve to be discredited for a variety of reasons. How a caregiver reacts to both stigma and perceived stigma can affect the quality of their life and the care they are able to give their relative.
Stigma by association is when a person is stigmatized simply for their association or similarity with a person who is stigmatized. Stigma by association can be external when the society stigmatizes the family of a mentally ill person. But it can also be internal, where the family of a mentally ill person believes this wrong perception of mental illness and expects to be stigmatized.
Families of people with mental illness often feel stigmatized by the perception that a mental illness is genetic or hereditary. This stems from the lack of knowledge about disorders, both among caregivers and society. While some illnesses can be hereditary, they may or may not manifest among relatives. As a consequence, uncertainty about one’s health may follow and concerns regarding a possible mental illness may result. This stimulates fear and uncertainty.
The most troubling by-product of stigma is that caregivers of the mentally ill family members delay approaching medical treatment for fear of being labeled as a family with mental illness.
Stigma can cause great psychological distress in caregivers and people with mental illness. The distress may arise from worries about one’s place in society or among extended family and friends. Such psychological distress can affect the mental health of the caregiver.
Social exclusion can take place by initiation from the caregiver or by society.
The fear of being stigmatized often causes the families of people with mental illness to isolate themselves from their social circles. While some people withdraw completely and never go out, others exclude the person with the mental illness from social gatherings such as weddings, parties and pujas, and avoid discussing them in public. This isolation robs the patient from the possibilities to recover from mental illness by contact with and support from family and friends.