Shame and Mental Illness

Shame and Mental Illness

Shame can cause people to avoid getting the help they need to recover from mental health issues. In most cases, shame is caused by internalized stigmas and the spread of misinformation. Many people are unaware that their mental health directly affects their ability to function. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), mental health “affects how we think, feel, and act.” In addition, it can determine how well you cope with chronic and acute stress. Alter San Diego Crisis Intervention provides crisis stabilization and other treatment options for individuals struggling with mental illness. We believe there is no shame in needing help.

Shame and Mental Illness 

People who feel embarrassed or ashamed of their circumstances sometimes have difficulty recognizing the need for help. According to Epidemiology and Psychiatric Sciences, “Shame and embarrassment were identified as barriers to help-seeking in a number of recent studies.” A lack of education about mental health and the prevalence of stereotypes in popular media contribute to the development of social stigmas surrounding mental health and treatment programs. 

Feelings of shame are connected to mental health in the following ways: 

  • Feeling ashamed can worsen depression, anxiety, and other symptoms
  • It can decrease self-worth and self-esteem
  • People who feel shame may not feel comfortable engaging in treatment 
  • It can contribute to ambivalence about treatment or recovery 

Most people feel ashamed if they think or act in a way that betrays their personal beliefs or moral code. Unfortunately, social stigmas have made it easy for people to adopt unhealthy expectations and beliefs about mental health. You can change how you think about mental health and avoid unnecessary shame related to your condition by educating yourself about the realities of mental health. 

What Causes Shame? 

Everyone reacts to mental health issues and societal pressures in different ways. The following can make some people feel ashamed: 

  • Not meeting personal, family, or professional expectations 
  • Social stigmas and misinformation related to mental health 
  • Participating in morally objectionable activities like substance misuse 

Shame Can Cause People to Avoid Getting Help 

Many people avoid addressing their problems because they feel ashamed of past actions or afraid of being judged. The feeling can cause them to avoid confiding in others or considering professional mental health treatment. Fortunately, people who feel reluctant or ambivalent about participating in a program get the same benefits from attending therapy and other forms of treatment as anyone else. In fact, therapists have specific methods they use to address denial and shame in a healthy way. 

Some people who feel ashamed may avoid getting help because of the following: 

  • Uncertainty about what to expect from treatment and the care team
  • Fear of family, friends, or coworkers finding out about their condition 
  • Not wanting to talk about the underlying issues related to their symptoms 
  • Wanting to avoid feeling vulnerable around strangers

Substituting Emotions to Decrease Distress

People may substitute other emotions for shame in an attempt to feel better about themselves and their circumstances. According to The Journal of Forensic Psychiatry and Psychology, “In an effort to escape painful feelings of shame, shamed people are inclined to defensively ‘turn the tables,’’ externalizing blame and anger outward onto a convenient scapegoat.” In many cases, “the shamed person attempts to regain some sense of control and superiority in their life, but the long-term costs can be steep.” You might notice yourself growing more aggressive, irritated, or sad if you avoid dealing with feeling ashamed. Treatment can help you change the way your emotions manifest. 

How to Combat Stigmas 

Stigmas remain one of the most common reasons why people feel ashamed of themselves or their behaviors. In addition, they frequently stop people from getting the help they need to heal and fully recover. Common mental health stigmas include: 

  • “Being diagnosed with a mental health disorder means there is something wrong with you.” 
  • “You can never truly recover from a mental health crisis.” 
  • “Being diagnosed with a mental health disorder means you have violent and aggressive tendencies.” 
  • “Mental health issues are caused by poor character, laziness, or a need for attention.” 

The statements listed above are all untrue. However, millions of people continue to believe them, causing some to feel ashamed of their condition. Misinformation about treatment and recovery may also cause some people to feel it will waste their time if they attend a program. However, individuals who participate in professional mental health treatment have a much higher likelihood of achieving and maintaining emotional stability. 

You can heal from the damaging effects of mental health disorders. Alter San Diego Crisis Intervention will help you learn new ways to cope and overcome challenges during recovery. Treatment takes place in a structured environment where you can interact with peers and form positive social connections that improve self-esteem and self-confidence. You can overcome feelings of shame and thrive during recovery. 

Shame can cause people to avoid getting the help they need to cope with chronic stress or mental health issues. In addition, shame also decreases self-confidence, self-worth, and self-efficacy. Many people who need professional mental health treatment avoid it because they feel ashamed of themselves or uncertain of how others may react. Instead of focusing on their own well-being, they worry about how society may judge their life choices. However, mental health issues do not disappear if they are left untreated. Instead, they get worse over time. Alter San Diego Crisis Intervention offers crisis stabilization and other treatment programs. To learn more about our services and mental health agencies in San Diego, call us at (866) 986-1481.