Does 'Ignorance is Bliss' Apply to Mental Health Stigma?
Ignorance is bliss. Or is it? It can be challenging to decipher the true root of ignorance. Is it the literal definition of the word, lack of knowledge or awareness? Does malicious intent fuel ignorance? Does a lack of empathy fuel ignorance? Although daunting, the truth is, understanding the root of the ignorance in question is the first step toward improvement. Regarding mental health stigma, ignorance is one of the biggest obstacles to progress. Let's unpack a few common motives behind ignorance to help gauge a path forward concerning mental health stigma.
Exploring Ignorance Fueled By a Lack of Knowledge
The simplest--and easiest motive to forgive--is a general lack of understanding or knowledge. It's sometimes easy to forget that up until recently, speaking about mental health was considered taboo.1 In some communities, these beliefs run extremely deep, and mental health, or the stigma surrounding it, is still rarely discussed.2
With that said, this category of ignorance is also the simplest to remedy. In cases like these, the next step is exchanging lack for abundance. If you are saying easier said than done, remember that the next right step is not always the biggest. I have a friend whose sister started a peer support group at her college, a reasonable feat with extraordinary impact. There is a world of knowledge at our fingertips, and sometimes people just need a nudge to tap into that. Be creative with your friendly nudge.
Considering Ignorance Within the Scope of Empathy
Certain situations in my life have provoked me to re-examine the importance of empathy. To some, empathy may seem innate, but from personal experience, I know this is far from the truth. As an empath, it took me a while to understand this and even longer to be okay with it.
We can't shame others for not having the same lived experiences. We can't expect others to know how we feel. Nevertheless, that doesn't mean we stop trying. Empathy is further in reach when the receiving end is willing to learn and listen. This concept leads me to the last common motive of ignorance, a purposeful unwillingness to learn. In other words, malicious intent.
Dealing with Individuals Unwilling to Learn
Odds are you've encountered your fair share of stubborn individuals. Maybe you are one yourself (I know I am). That said, there is a clear line between typical stubbornness and intentionally dismissing the viewpoints and experiences of others. One of the biggest obstacles in dismantling mental health stigma is individuals unwilling to stray from long-standing and wildly counterproductive beliefs surrounding mental health.
So, how do we counteract this category of ignorance? Apologies in advance for the lack of zest here, but it's really quite simple: patience and resilience. These two virtues can go a very, very long way.
- HealthPartners. (2020, February 24). Stigma of mental illnesses decreasing, survey shows. https://www.healthpartners.com/hp/about/press-releases/stigma-of-mental-illnesses-decreasing.html
The University of Chicago. (2017). Looking at the Cultural Aspects of Mental Health | Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice. SSA Magazine Archive. https://crownschool.uchicago.edu/ssa_magazine/looking-cultural-aspects-mental-health.html
Jack, J. (2022, November 10). Does 'Ignorance is Bliss' Apply to Mental Health Stigma?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, September 23 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/survivingmentalhealthstigma/2022/11/does-ignorance-is-bliss-apply-to-mental-health-stigma