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Overcoming Stigma for Generalized Anxiety Disorder

Confronting Fears and Barriers


Updated February 22, 2009

One of the biggest barriers to people seeking help for anxiety problems like generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), is something that mental health professionals call “social stigma.” Essentially, social stigma is the negative view that others can project onto people who reveal particular imperfections or problems.

Fear of Being Excluded

One of the largest factors that makes stigma so powerful is that at an extreme level, it can lead people to reject or exclude others. It is common for someone with GAD or other psychological problems to think that if they reveal struggles to friends or seek professional help that they will suffer serious social or professional problems. Therefore, the threat of this actually happening in the social world can become a tremendous barrier. Fortunately, social exclusion is much more often the exception rather than the rule.

Fear of Being Seen as “Crazy”

Since being “crazy” or “insane” carries significant stigma in American culture (think about how often that is used to insult someone), any possibility that one could be misunderstood and seen as crazy is significantly threatening. It is common for someone to worry that others will see them as crazy, but also that getting a diagnosis for GAD actually means that they are, which is absolutely false.

Overcoming Stigma

Stigma is real and can certainly have an impact in some cases. However, for the overwhelming majority of people that I have worked with, stigma does not directly affect them. When they disclose their problems to close friends or family members, they often feel a dramatic enhancement of their relationships, not the exclusion or rejection that they fear. Furthermore, most people do not have increased social or work problems after they begin to own their struggles with anxiety.

In Conclusion

Once you become educated about stigma and your potential problems with anxiety and worry, you can make can active choice to do something to improve your life. Sometimes doing things like this poses the risk of some negative consequences. But often the benefits of improvement vastly outweigh the difficulties that come with acknowledging that you may have GAD.
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