When Words Hurt: How Cultural Stigma Constructs Systemic Barriers to Behavioral Healthcare Access




Shei, Jasperina

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Living with a mental illness is a lonely battle. The mentally ill have long struggled with stigma, with society ignoring or undermining their conditions. Despite the heavy disease burden and widespread prevalence of mental illness, these conditions are still widely misunderstood and stigmatized. My thesis will, through literature analysis, examine the influence of cultural stigma on access to behavioral healthcare. For the purposes of this analysis, behavioral health conditions will encompass mental illnesses and substance abuse disorders. Effects of stigma can be categorized into systemic and personal barriers. Systemic barriers include complex disease and treatment mechanisms and processes, healthcare financing, healthcare professional shortages, and employment and housing difficulties hindering self-sufficiency. Personal barriers include a lack of help-seeking behavior, unwillingness to pursue treatment, and reduction in motivation to pursue personal goals. This paper will primarily focus on systemic barriers, as they are more straightforward to analyze and address.

Finally, I aim to explore recommendations for effecting positive change, by using policy to address stigma and its consequences. One approach is to directly aim to increase behavioral healthcare access through healthcare technology, efforts to enlarge the healthcare workforce, and programs to empower patients to strive for self-sufficiency. Another approach, a more long-term method for future generations, is to address stigma. Community education has been shown to be promising by promoting empathy and awareness of physical and mental healthy parity. Integrating empathy education into the public curriculum would not only encourage a healthy environment that reduces the incidence of psychological illness, but would also address self and public stigma, teaching individuals to be compassionate to those with unseen, complex conditions.


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