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‘Attention Seeking’ and Mental Illness Stigma

There is so much stigma surround the phrase ‘attention seeking’ when it comes to mental illness. People use it in a negative way when in reality there is no negative meaning behind it. We all seek attention in our lives, it’s a fundamental part of human nature.

‘Seeking attention’ is part of life

We seek attention when we look for friendships; when we seek out love and romance; when we desire approval and acceptance from our peers; when we crave acknowledgement and success within our academic and professional lives. We seek attention and praise from our families and want to make them proud; we seek connection with our peers when we post on social media and enjoy people liking our posts, pictures and videos and even when we blog and hope for views: there are all kinds of ways of seeking attention and it plays a part in everybody’s life at some stage, in some way, and it’s not a bad thing. All of these things are perfectly natural and completely accepted as part of life.  It’s part of how we shape our lives, how we connect with other people, how we challenge ourselves to progress in our lives throughout the different stages and become successful in regards to what we want our lives to be.

A negative perception

Yet when it comes to mental illness people throw around this term ‘attention seeking’ in a very negative way. Most people who struggle with mental illness and choose to speak out about it are doing so because one, they have a right to and it’s part of their lives, we all have a right to speak about our experiences on any platform we choose; two because they may be trying to raise awareness which is a wonderful thing and three because they want to connect with others who understand what they are going through and make friends who share their experiences in life, just like everyone else in the world wants to do. If they are speaking out to express their distress, then they deserve compassion, understanding and help if possible. There are plenty of reasons people might speak out and this can take a lot of courage, it’s such a personal thing and when someone takes the time to express themselves they should be encouraged and certainly not judged.

‘Attention seeking’ and self harm

Sometimes ‘attention seeking’ can be used in reference to people who self-harm or express suicidal feelings, which is when someone is at their most vulnerable and needs the most understanding and care. The majority of people who self-harm try to hide it because they are ashamed of it, in part due to just this sort of stigma, which is the complete opposite of seeking attention. If people are struggling this much and do reach out for help, this is a good thing and not a bad thing! If they are ‘seeking attention’ because they are feeling like they are a danger to themselves, however they might ask for this help, then they should be given help and support not shamed! One of the hardest things in the world to do when you are in a mental health crisis is to ask for the help you need, and to then be told that you are doing something wrong can not only be damaging, but fatal.

If someone is ‘seeking attention’ in what you perceive to be a negative way, then it’s vital to consider why they might be taking these actions, what the reasons may be behind them and what would be a productive and helpful way to respond.

Being more aware and compassionate

It’s vital that we are more aware of what we are saying to others and how our words can effect them as well as our actions. It’s vital that stigma around mental illness is removed and more people can indeed seek the attention, help and support that they so desperately need. It’s vital that we are kinder to others, that we try to understand instead of judge in regards to mental health and all areas of life in general, and that while we express our opinions and have a right to our feelings, that we don’t go out of our way to say something that is very harmful to someone in a vulnerable position.

‘Attention Seeking’ and Mental Illness Stigma

Ann-Marie D'Arcy-Sharpe

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APA Reference
D'Arcy-Sharpe, A. (2018). ‘Attention Seeking’ and Mental Illness Stigma. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 14 Oct 2018
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