Shame and fear of stigmatization - Taboo to break

Demand and need for mental health services have increased among Finnish university students over the past years. Last winter, the Finnish Student Health Service YTHS published a statistic according to which the number of the treatment need estimates between January and October 2020 had increased 24 percent compared to 2019 [1]. Even though the demand growth had already been noticeable before the COVID-19 epidemic, we cannot argue that this negative trend would not have received impetus from social conditions changes.


Last spring, the concerns of students and mental health treatment problems were frequently discussed in the media. As the problems have been identified and have yet gone nowhere, a public conversation about the need for effective mental health treatment continues.




Fears and anxieties reduce the likelihood of seeking help among students


Even though the threshold for seeking help has become lower, too many people suffer from mental health problems alone for far too long.


Talking about mental health issues can still be perceived as a weakness among students, which inevitably raises the threshold for seeking help. Access to treatment has also been hampered because students simply do not know where to seek help [2].


Medified Solutions commissioned a mental health survey in cooperation with Nyyti ry – a society promoting Finnish students’ mental health and learning ability, in autumn 2020. In particular, the study examined student’s attitudes towards mental health, mental health treatment, and utilizing mobile solutions in mental health treatment [3].


The study revealed that more than half of these respondents (57 percent) find talking about mental issues with a health care professional difficult or quite difficult. Also, over third of the respondent (78 percent) completely disagrees or disagrees that it is possible to get appropriate support for mental health quickly enough. The survey was responded to by 147 members of the Nyyti ry association, most of whom (90 percent) had experienced mental health issues in the last 12 months. The majority of respondents were between the ages of 18 and 30 years [3].



These findings were consistent with The Mental Health Barometer conducted by the Finnish Association of Mental Health in 2019. This study revealed that prejudices about mental health disorders exist, and mental health problems are still associated with shame and fear of stigmatization, with the rate of experiencing shame due to seeking help or talking about mental health problems being still rather high.


According to the survey, one in three (33 percent) with experiences of mental health problems had felt ashamed to seek treatment for their mental health, and quite as many (34 percent) had felt shame when telling other people about their mental health problems. The study in question was conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic. [4]



Seek help rather too early than too late


Opening up about our mental health can be scary, even if it's with people we trust. Maybe we have concern overburdening others with our problems, fear of how it affects our social relations, or are worried about what happens if we admit we need help.


Opening up for the first time can feel so overwhelming that you can’t get up the courage to talk it out. Remember, it will be worth it, and you are not alone. Regardless of how hard it is, you are making this jump for you - for you to be able to ask for help as soon as you need it - for you to no longer suffer in silence.


Dealing with stigma


Mental health stigma has its power to worsen symptoms of mental health issues, and it can also impede people in need of care from getting help and hence delay their recovery.


Here are a few important things to keep in mind when dealing with this stigma:


You should always get the appropriate treatment for you and your needs. Mental illness is not something shameful that needs to be hidden. Try not to let the fear of being labeled with a mental illness stop you from getting help.


Mental health issues are not a sign of weakness. It also is rarely something you can deal with on your own. Talking about your mental health issues with healthcare professionals will support your own recovery progress.


It’s not personal. Unfortunately, not everyone understands mental health problems. Some people may, for example, use language you find dismissive, offensive, or hurtful. Remember that most judgments of others often come from a lack of understanding rather than anything else. Try not to let the opinions of others become your reality. Their views have anything to do with you personally.




SOURCES


  1. “Opiskelijat arkailevat puhua mielenterveysongelmista: "Nähdään liian usein omana heikkoutena" – katso keskustelu jaksamisesta korona-aikana.” Yle uutiset, 2020. Accessed February 7, 2020. https://yle.fi/uutiset/3-11646928

  2. “Moni opiskelija kokee jääneensä yksin korona-aikana, ja osa toivoo yliopistolta ja YTHS:ltä enemmän tukea tilanteeseen - YTHS: On tärkeää ottaa aina yhteyttä, kun tarvitsee apua.” Ylioppilaslehti, 2020. Accessed February 7, 2020. https://ylioppilaslehti.fi/2020/12/moni-opiskelija-kokee-jaaneensa-yksin-korona-aikana-ja-osa-toivoo-yliopistolta-ja-ythslta-enemman-tukea-tilanteeseen-yths-on-tarkeaa-ottaa-aina-yhteytta-kun-tarvitsee-apua/

  3. A mental health survey for students. Nyyti ry & Medified Solutions Oy, Autumn 2020.

  4. "Mielenterveysbarometri 2019.” Mielenterveyden keskusliitto, 2020. Kantar TNS Oy. Accessed February 7, 2020. https://www.mtkl.fi/toimintamme/julkaisut/mielenterveysbarometri2019/



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