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State of Mind: It’s time to face our own biases
Bias. Simply hearing the word can provoke intense feelings for many people. In today’s social climate, being willing to explore bias can be polarizing. Sometimes, though, doing exactly that is necessary to clear up misconceptions and engage in sincere dialogue to grow together. One often overlooked aspect of that conversation is the role that bias can play in mental health.
Bias refers to an inclination toward or against someone or something. There are many types of bias, which exist in large part due to frames of reference like age, gender, upbringing, education, religion, media consumption and many more experiences and factors that shape our worldview. Ultimately, we all have biases simply because we’re human.
On the positive side, our biases influence our likes and dislikes, preferences, capacity to identify similarities and connect with others and our ability to make quicker decisions when necessary. Conversely, our biases can, intentionally or unintentionally, lead to distorted perceptions, inaccurate judgments, poor decision-making and even discrimination.
This can show up in seemingly innocuous but important ways, such as feeling justified when cutting another driver off in traffic but blaming another driver’s error on flawed character or personal intention.
It can show up in subtle ways, like walking as far away as possible from a person who looks different from you or judging the person with uniquely colored hair or tattoos or a religious pendant.
It also can show up in more obvious ways in the form of racism, sexism, ageism, heterosexism, ableism or classism. It’s easy to validate and reinforce these biases by surrounding ourselves with like-minded people and only consuming information that aligns with our current viewpoints.
The cumulative effect of these biases can play an important role in mental health. On one side of the equation, holding unchecked biases can interfere with our ability to relate to or trust others, make us unnecessarily fearful, worried and paranoid. It may even be a factor in things like anxiety, depression and addiction. By acknowledging our healthy biases and addressing the unhealthy ones, we can increase our ability to genuinely connect with others and feel more emotionally safe and secure.
On the other side of the equation, people who face negative bias or discrimination are more likely to have mental health problems like higher levels of stress, anxiety, depression and substance use. Bias also affects how people perceive those who suffer from mental illness, seek therapy or openly discuss mental health challenges.
Perhaps two of the hardest things to do are to admit we may be wrong and to willingly be uncomfortable. But that might be exactly what is necessary to challenge our own biases. It is important to seek out information that counters our existing beliefs and work to connect with people who hold views different from our own. That might be intentionally consuming news sources or following social media channels that don’t align with our current viewpoints, starting a conversation with someone who looks or thinks differently than those who you normally interact or making an effort to learn from someone of a different age, race, gender, sexuality, class or culture.
At the very least, it requires us to be willing to provide a safe environment to acknowledge our biases and seek ways to challenge them. In doing so, we can create a culture where everyone feels welcome and valued and continue to improve our own well-being.
Bryan Busch is a licensed mental health counselor in Cedar Rapids. He also works at Folience, the parent company of The Gazette. He can be reached at email@example.com.