The Factors and Causes of Anxiety Stigmatization in Society

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Anxiety disorders affect about 40 million Americans, but for many, it is a shameful secret. Numerous individuals suffering from anxiety disorders will not let anyone know they are in distress. Attempting to hide these disorders is no easy task, though, many have no choice. Anxiety Disorders hold a very strong stigma in society, they are often seen as dramatic reactions to common activities. For a person struggling to deal with an anxiety disorder, simple daily actions can be debilitating. The stigmatization and degradation of people suffering from anxiety disorders is problematic because it causes people with anxiety to feel like a burden in the workplace which makes them less likely to contribute, creates fear to reach out and get help in distress that they will be judged by others, it degrades these sufferers and lessens their self-esteem ultimately leading to isolation and depression, and it increases and normalizes negative feelings toward people with anxiety disorders in society.

Formerly, in the 1950s anxiety was thoroughly examined by many physicians and psychiatrists. Anxiety left many medical professionals scratching their heads, nobody knew exactly what anxiety was. Anxiety was often thought of as nerves or stress rather than mental illness. Dr. Allan V. Horowitz holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from Yale University and is currently a Board of Governors Professor in the Department of Sociology at Rutgers University. In a journal written by Dr. Horowitz he states that “During this period, the cultural conception of anxiety was not so much as a particular type of psychiatric illness as a general psychic consequence of the demands and pace of modern conditions of life.” In the past, anxiety was not seen as a very big deal, it was often seen as an overreaction. It was overlooked as a serious condition so when the reactions to panic attacks were severe people were looked at as if they were psychotic. Today, the stigmatization behind people with anxiety disorders persists. With modern medicine, it is common knowledge, or at least it should be, that these disorders are real and not just a case of nerves. So, it is odd that people who suffer from these disorders are still looked at with repulsion. Common anxiety disorders that affect many Americans today include general anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and social anxiety disorder. The stigmatization behind these disorders can be detrimental. These illnesses are often seen as an overreaction, some think individuals who are inflicted are just feeble-minded. One of the most common assumptions about people with anxiety is that they are crazy. Mental illness in any sense is out of the control of the person who is dealing with it. Similar to illness and disease, it is not something that one can just get over. It is an infliction that must be dealt with. Sure, having a positive outlook can help, but it will not cure.

First off, the stigmatization of individuals with anxiety disorders makes them feel as if they are a burden in the workplace. They are often made to feel as if they are not capable individuals due to their disorders. When made to feel as if they are incompetent workers, they are less likely to contribute to the workforce. It is already difficult to find and keep a job after a disorder is disclosed. The pressure to hide these disorders is strong and allowing others to know of their issues becomes problematic to their careers. Elaine Brohan, a Ph.D. of Psychology holder and current health psychologist states that “Stigma and discrimination present an important barrier to finding and keeping work for individuals with a mental health problem.” Brohan also states that “Mental health services users face difficulties in deciding whether to disclose a mental health problem in the employment context”. It is difficult for someone with an anxiety disorder to know when it is ok to tell their employer of illness. Before it is mentioned, there is just no telling what the reaction may be. Many fear of being demoted or even losing their jobs. For many people suffering from these disorders, it seems easier to work from home or not work at all. There is just not much support in the workplace for mental illness.

Furthermore, the stigmatization of anxiety disorders not only keeps these individuals from making a living, but it also keeps them from getting help. Some of these anxiety disorders can be so debilitating that they require medical assistance and therapy. Anxiety can make it difficult to do even simple everyday tasks. Many are afraid to seek out help because they don’t want anyone to know they are suffering from mental illness. The stigma surrounding these illnesses play a huge role in the number of people willing to seek out therapy. Dr. Norhayati Ibrahim is a senior lecturer of Healthcare Sciences at the National University of Malaysia, she has done much research on mental illness and its effects on health. According to Dr. Ibrahim “Seeking help for mental health issues is the first step toward assessing the mental state, getting the proper diagnosis and subsequently undergoing the intervention and management of mental health by professionals”. Seeking out help is crucial on the journey to being able to live with mental illness. Many can’t get through it alone and are unable to function in certain situations. A huge part of being able to deal with the illness is knowing that they are not alone and there is help. Dr. Ibrahim also states that “Studies showed that stigma is one of the deterring factors for seeking mental help in various populations, such as among university students [15, 16], faith communities [17], veterans and military personnel [18, 19] and healthcare students and professionals”. There is a wide array of people affected by these disorders, but a similar factor that keeps many from seeking out help is the stigma held over their heads. If they seek out help they are proving the stigma, they are accepting that the things people are saying are true. Seeking out help makes these individuals feel weak, but in reality, it is very brave to get help. These individuals are putting themselves at risk for being stigmatized even further when they pursue assistance, but ultimately it is very beneficial.

Moreover, the stigmatization of these individuals breaks down their self-esteem and value. When constantly being degraded and judged for circumstances out of their control it takes a toll on their self-worth. These individuals have issues that are greatly debilitating and on top of it, they are scrutinized for it severely. This combination is enough to break anyone down. Stigmatization and degradation put them at risk for further mental instability. Many who are pushed to their limits become depressed and isolate themselves from others. Teresa Hall is a current Ph.D. candidate at the University of Melbourne’s centre for international mental health. In Hall’s article about social inclusion and exclusion of people with mental illness, she states “Stigma, discrimination and social exclusion have deleterious effects on people with mental illness. Stigmatising attitudes towards people with mental illness are linked to poor well-being and self-esteem [17]. Mental illness and social isolation are both linked with early death through the direct and indirect pathways of chronic disease and lifestyle factors”. Stigmatization of people with mental illness creates detrimental feelings toward themselves. These factors lead to depression and a lack of self-care. When stigmatizing these individuals it leads them to be excluded from social groupings and isolates them from society. It is crucial for all people to feel accepted in society, people suffering from mental illness especially need acceptance. They are dealing with the effects of their anxiety constantly and need to know they are not alone. It is not healthy for these individuals to deal with their illness alone.

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In addition to all of the issues stigmatization brings into the lives of people dealing with anxiety disorders, it also normalizes the negative feelings toward these individuals in society. Unfortunately, it is not only the general population that feels negatively toward anxiety and other mental disorders, but healthcare professionals in some areas also harbor stigmatization. The feelings society carries regarding these disorders relies heavily on the feelings of the healthcare professionals in the area. These ideas normalize the mistreatment and negative attitudes toward people with disorders. Dr. Elina A. Stefanovics is a Ph.D. holder of psychiatry and board member of the human investigation committee at Yale University. According to Dr. Stefanovics “in some studies, providers have demonstrated more negative attitudes than the general population [21, 24–26]—an issue of special concern, since they are responsible for both providing care and for educating the larger society about mental illness”. These attitudes make it more difficult for people with disorders to break through the barriers set by stigmatization. When the healthcare providers carry these attitudes there is nowhere left for them to turn. Dr. Stefanovics states that “Mental health providers and the general public within a given culture or nation may share similar stigmatized or positive attitudes toward people with mental illness” When the consensus within a population falls into a certain category it becomes the norm. This is highly problematic as it creates a more toxic environment for people suffering from anxiety disorders and can even make anxiety worsen.

Therefore, the stigmatization of individuals with anxiety disorders must be resolved to protect their dignity and worth. To solve the stigmatization and degradation of those affected by anxiety disorders there needs to be serious changes within society through education to combat ignorance. A solution to the issue at hand is to implement anxiety disorder awareness programs in higher education and the workplace. These programs will aim to educate and bring awareness of how detrimental stigma and negativity toward individuals with anxiety disorders can be. These programs will include physicians and activist speakers who are well educated in anxiety disorders. The presentation of the information will include how to find help, how to know when an anxiety disorder is present, how to avoid stigmatization in conversation and a special hotline for individuals to anonymously call when experiencing a panic attack or need advice on how to deal with their anxiety. The hotline will be run by volunteer therapists and individuals who have similar disorders and want to help others through hard times. Ultimately, these programs will help individuals with anxiety disorders feel like they have somewhere to turn when they feel alone, it will also educate others in the workplace and in the school environment just how real and damaging these disorders can be. These programs will be paid for through charitable donations of individuals who want to bring awareness to the reality of anxiety disorders in society. With the implementation of these programs, the stigma behind anxiety disorders can be greatly decreased within society.

Although, a viable solution may be present there is not always a widespread acceptance. Regarding the remedy of stigmatization of anxiety disorders, there is a cloud of controversy around the safety of being around these individuals at all. Many stigmatize these individuals since their mental stability is in question. It is a popular belief that one should be cautious when around an individual with anxiety disorders or any other mental illness. This is a common reason this stigmatization exists. The belief is that without proper treatment or medication these individuals are dangerous to those around them. Donald Stone is a professor of Law at the University of Baltimore with expertise in mental health law, according to Stone “There is growing pressure from various comers of society to address the presence of people with mental illness who are perceived as dangerous in the community. Certain segments of the public want to identify and remove such persons from neighborhoods before they do harm.” This idea highlights the point that the stigmatization of these individuals is reflected through a lack of understanding. The criteria around the level of mental illness that requires medical attention bring individuals to believe that all people with disorders are a danger to the public. This may become an issue in the open-mindedness of individuals to inherit a new perspective regarding people with anxiety disorders. Anxiety disorders differ from other mental disorders that cause adverse psychiatric issues. Yet, many are unable to see a difference due to common beliefs among communities. In the same article, Stone states “Others in the mental health advocacy field worry that this knee-jerk reaction is based on the myth that people who are mentally ill pose a greater danger to the public than those persons without such a diagnosis. Complicating the picture is the lack of precise science on how to predict future dangerous behavior”. These conceptions are based upon common ideas within a community. This is a myth and is believed as an automatic response to mental health issues. Again, a solution to the issue is a debunking of such ideas. The education of individuals who stigmatize people with anxiety disorders and group them up with individuals with severe psychiatric illnesses is key. These ideas are based upon a common stereotype and stigma, this is not the case for all mental disorders. Furthermore, with proper medical attention, these disorders can be controlled and managed. The stigma surrounding these disorders is what keeps these individuals from getting the help they need. It is a domino effect, the stigma keeps them from getting help, but not getting help is what is causing the stigma. One is caused by the other. Stigmatization needs to be reduced for these individuals to feel safe to get proper medical help. The key to solving the stigma is educating the public about the truth behind anxiety disorders.

Moreover, the education required to combat stigma needs to be paid for. A way to pay for such education is through charitable donations. Charity is a great way for individuals to help out with causes they stand behind even if they are not “hands-on” in the solution. Though, not all charities are using the money as they say they are. Carolyn J. Cordery is a professor in charity accounting and accountability at the Aston business school in Birmingham United Kingdom, Cordery states that “sustained charity fraud is supported when organisations do not develop strong accountability links to salient stakeholders”. When organizations do not give necessary information to donors it becomes easier for these charities to commit fraud. When all parties involved in the charity are not disclosed it is difficult to determine where the money is going. Not all stakeholders have the same goals, and many are in it for the profit. For a charity to be trustworthy, their hearts have to be in the right place. There are many scam charities out there, but with the proper research, it is possible to figure out which ones are giving back to their organizations. Deciding which charities to give to can be tough, many do not know how to choose a reliable organization to donate to. There are resources that aid in helping identify which charities are trustworthy and which are not. Mallie Jane Kim is a journalist and reporter for US News & World Report, according to Kim, “Charity Navigator rates nonprofits based on their financial viability and efficiency (how much of every dollar goes to run programs and how much toward administrative and fundraising costs), and the Better Business Bureau rates them based on 20 standards of accountability, including the structure of the board of directors and the transparency of financial data”. These references are there to help individuals in choosing a proper organization to donate to. They should be utilized before choosing to donate. Kim also states that “Any charity that meets all 20 standards is classified as a BBB Accredited Charity. A quick search on sites like these is a great way to find out if an organization actually exists and to avoid giving to sound-alike charities”. Honest charities can be hard to spot at times, but they are out there, and many sites list trustworthy organizations. With a quick google search choosing a noble cause can be easy. Organizations that steal from individuals that just want to help are immoral. Individuals who decide to donate to any charities should take the proper precautions before sending money. References and all numerical data will be available online for the public to see. There will be no hiding the facts of this organization from the public. All donations will go toward the establishment of these programs and call centers as this will be a non-profit organization dedicated to the education of anxiety disorders.

Likewise, there can be issues that arise with hotline services and the availability of volunteers to run said hotlines. There may be issues with the availability of volunteers to be ready to counsel individuals in need. This may cause a conflict if there are individuals in need of assistance in a time when volunteers may be temporarily unavailable. Prudi Koeninger is a founder and director of the Wildlife Coalition, in Dallas Texas which operates a community supported wildlife conflict solution hotline. Koeninger speaks on issues with running a volunteer-based hotline. In his article, he states that “Our greatest challenge was determining how to handle vacant shifts, such as when a volunteer calls out sick, has a family emergency, or goes on vacation. During an hour-long shift, a volunteer may handle up to 20 calls”. This may become an issue as many calls come in daily, but there may not always be a volunteer ready to take a call. As with most volunteer-run hotlines, people who volunteer to take calls have other obligations outside of their volunteer work that may cause them to be unavailable at times. As a solution to the issues, Koeninger explains how they are handled in his organization, “Our hosted PBX phone system option for “parking” calls during a vacant shift has proven helpful in this regard. When the system is in ‘park’ mode, the public cannot leave a voicemail but they are given instructions; in this case, we created a message directing callers to our website for answers”. There are solutions to the issue of unavailability. In the event of unavailable helpers, there will be resources that can be found online to help callers. There will also be a given time in the recording when there will be available helpers to take calls, so individuals know when to call back. All resources regarding finding help and information on how to deal with panic attacks and episodes will be found on the website. Even in the case of the hotline being down the resources and help will still be available to the public online. There will be help articles written by professionals as well as chat and email services available where questions can be answered even if a physical phone call is not available. This may also help with individuals who are anxious to speak on the phone and would rather type their questions.

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The Factors and Causes of Anxiety Stigmatization in Society. (2022, Jun 29). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 26, 2024, from
“The Factors and Causes of Anxiety Stigmatization in Society.” Edubirdie, 29 Jun. 2022,
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