Valley Voices

Christina A. Roup and Jack Moore: Save Mart slaps down stigma

Save Mart supermarkets have agreed to stop selling an energy drink that mental health advocates say promotes mental health stigma.
Save Mart supermarkets have agreed to stop selling an energy drink that mental health advocates say promotes mental health stigma. Fresno Bee Staff Photo

The Fresno Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness thanks Save Mart for its leadership in supporting people affected by mental illness.

Save Mart listened to customer concerns about a product with an offensive name and slogan that reinforced public misconceptions about people with mental illnesses. Save Mart’s decision to stop purchasing and selling the product showed caring for people living with mental illness. It also is important for several other reasons related to the decreasing stigma associated with mental illness.

“Stigma” is a term that refers to how inaccurate stereotypes about people with mental illness cause prejudice and discrimination. There are three forms of stigma: structural stigma, public stigma and self-stigma.

Structural stigma occurs when organizations have practices that are a manifestation of misunderstandings or prejudices against people with mental illness. The energy drink’s name and slogan promoted misconceptions that engender negative attitudes by implying that people with mental illness choose to do things to initiate an involuntary psychiatric hold.

People do not choose to experience mania and psychosis. Mental illness affects the brain, which causes disorganization of thinking. During these episodes, people are confused and scared by their thoughts and the reactions of other people to their behavior.

They have great difficulty controlling their behaviors. Once the symptoms go away, they fear having them again and would not wish them on anyone. They would never tell anyone to think and behave like they do during these episodes. Save Mart’s decision is slowing the effects of the structural stigma, and this has many positive consequences for people with lives affected by mental illness.

Structural stigma is problematic because it generates public stigma. Public stigma manifests when many individuals believe inaccurate information and hold negative attitudes toward people with mental illness. People with these beliefs and attitudes avoid people with mental illness and their families because they have unnecessary fears.

This social exclusion causes painful emotions and prevents people with mental health conditions from accessing social support. Also, people often avoid seeking treatment for symptoms of mental health conditions until their illnesses reach the crisis stage.

This delay is because they don’t want to experience the social exclusion that would occur if someone knew they were going to counseling or seeing a psychiatrist. Save Mart’s decision shows that they want to support people with mental illness and their families.

Over time, if other people and organizations make similar decisions, then it stands to reason that people will get counseling before the crisis stage, resulting in fewer involuntary admissions to psychiatric hospitals.

The worst form of stigma is self-stigma. Self-stigma occurs when people with mental illness and their family members believe the misunderstandings and share the negative attitudes that are part of public stigma.

Self-stigma interferes with treatment processes. People can overcome self-stigma by telling their story of hope and recovery from mental illness and how public and structural stigma hurt them during their journey to wellness.

In publicly thanking Save Mart, we also would like to clarify our organization’s relationship to #TheReal5150 social media campaign. The work and decisions of the leadership of #TheReal5150 were not a part of NAMI Fresno’s advocacy activities.

We, however, have very valued members who have been involved in #TheReal5150’s advocacy efforts. We are happy their efforts resulted in an opportunity for Save Mart to show leadership in supporting all people affected by mental illness.

Christina A. Roup is director of NAMI Fresno. Jack Moore is president of the NAMI Fresno board of directors.