The Invisible Struggle: Mental Health Stigma in Medicine, Law, and Beyond

Working in a high-stress field such as healthcare or law takes a heavy toll. The stakes are high, as are the expectations. It’s not uncommon for people working in those fields to struggle with mental health. The constant stress puts wear and tear on us—physically and emotionally. What’s more, in many professional industries there’s a stigma against mental health; a belief that we should soldier on through those hardships, push past them, and that to do otherwise would be a sign of weakness.

Today’s post will talk about how to address and deal with the stigma of mental health in medicine, law, and beyond.

Understanding Stigma

man with hand on his faceAt its core, stigma is about judgment and fear; it’s an extension of the internalized beliefs you hold about something. People working in medicine and law are often exposed to individuals whose mental health has landed them in trouble. To some degree, it’s natural they might form negative beliefs about people suffering from those issues. That stigma can impact not only the way treat others, but also the way they treat themselves.

Some common signs someone with mental health may be struggling to deal with stigma include:

  • Judgment toward others
  • Feelings of guilt or failure
  • Anxiety about their career
  • Difficulty seeking treatment
  • Mood swings and irritability

In the legal and medical professions, it’s easy to see how this might impact your professional performance. How can you treat others fairly if you have adopted negative beliefs about them rooted in their mental health struggles? But then, how can you acknowledge or address your own challenges while holding those negative beliefs?

Methods for Coping

Acknowledgement

First, it’s important to recognize your mental health struggles and acknowledge them. You can’t treat something without accepting that it’s a problem in your life. This process of acknowledgement requires that you spend time educating yourself and opening your mind to the idea that someone’s struggles with mental health do not mean that they are broken or flawed.

Seek Safe Spaces

You are not the only one struggling to process mental health challenges in private—what’s more, your worries about how your peers may see you may not be entirely unfounded. Because stigma is common, it’s true that others may regard this as a weakness—even when that isn’t true.

What does that mean?  It means that you must find safe places to explore these feelings and process them. Look for support groups and professional networks where you can express yourself in a safe, private way, without fear of judgment from others. Sometimes that means turning to a journal, sometimes that means finding a support group.

Embrace Openness

While your first step is coming to terms with your mental health struggles on your own, the second step is learning to communicate those struggles openly with others. Difficulty in communication stems from shame and guilt—but it’s natural for someone working in a high-stress environment to suffer wear and tear over time. You are not alone in this, and others will thank you for your honesty and vulnerability.

Work-Life Balance

If your whole world is consumed by your work, it’s time to take a step back and branch out. Consider seeking out hobbies and social circles that tap into your inner child or your curiosities; keep them fun and light and make a point of not getting too competitive with such pursuits. The goal is to bring a balance to your life, not add even more stress.

Counseling Can Help

If you’re struggling to manage your mental health and how others might see you if they knew, consider reaching out to schedule an appointment. Professionals in high-stress settings often hold themselves to unreasonably high standards; it’s important to acknowledge that you are human. You may need help—and that’s okay.

Stress takes a physiological toll on the body and mind. Reach out today for online therapy to learn more about how you can manage and repair that toll.