The Effect of Stigma on People Seeking Healthcare

Contracting an illness can be extremely hard on the body and the mind of the patient. But catching an illness that has societal stigma attached to it can make things exponentially difficult.

The discrimination caused by stigma against people with debilitating physical or mental illnesses can be either subtle or obvious. Regardless of the magnitude, it causes irreparable harm to the patient going through the illness. People with such illnesses are marginalized in various ways. A little education on what the illnesses actually look like and what their implications might be, can help sensitise the public at large and eradicate the stigma attached to such conditions.

Stigma and Prejudice 

Stigma arises out of a lack of accurate information and understanding. A lot of it can also be attributed to misleading representation by the media, propagating ill-informed opinions with no scientific backing.

This can  largely be seen when it comes to mental health. While the public may accept the medical nature of a mental health issue, people still have a negative view of those struggling with it.

This stigma is one of the primary barriers to health-seeking behavior and adherence to treatment, not only in the case of mental health issues but across a range of health conditions globally.

Over the years, researchers have identified different types of stigma and how they play a role in affecting the patient

  • Public stigma- This involves negative or discriminatory attitudes that others have about an illness.
  • Self-stigma- This refers to the internalized shame that people with certain illnesses have about their own condition, largely influenced by public stigma.
  • Institutional stigma- This is more complex and is systemically rooted, involving policies of the government and other private organizations that limit opportunities for people with certain illnesses. One such example is the lower funding for mental illness research or fewer mental health services relative to other health care.

Not only does stigma affect the person going through the illness, but it also uproots the lives of the family members and loved ones who support them. In fact, in many Asian countries, seeking help for certain illnesses is seen as going against the culture, putting the patient through  immense physical and emotional strain.

Overcoming Stigma

In order to overcome and erase the stigmatization, while also mitigating its consequences on people struggling to reach out and seek healthcare, it is extremely necessary to have a specific and clear theoretical framework to guide intervention, research, and policy. Existing stigma frameworks tend to focus only on one health condition in isolation and direct all their attention to the psychological pathways occurring among individuals.

Following the Health Stigma and Discrimination Framework, which is a global, crosscutting framework based on theory, research, and practice, is recommended so that we can eventually demonstrate its application to a range of health conditions like leprosy, epilepsy, mental health, cancer, HIV, obesity and many more. Having critical illness insurance also helps when a person is going through such painful or life-threatening illnesses. It aids the affected party with a financial safety net during such challenging times and ensures that they cope with their situation better.