Mental Illness: Perceptions & Social Stigmas

Instructor: Elisha Madison

Elisha is a writer, editor, and aspiring novelist. She has a Master's degree in Ancient Celtic History & Mythology and another Masters in Museum Studies.

Mental illness carries a stigma, which can cause the people who suffer from these diseases additional distress. This in turn can make the illness worse. In this lesson, we will look at the perceived and social stigmas of mental illness.

Mental Illness

The treatment of mental illness has come a long way. Therapeutic, medical, and pharmaceutical treatments have made living with these illnesses - ranging from depression to bipolar disorder to schizophrenia - easier and more manageable than ever before.

Yet the stigma associated with metal illness remains. No matter how well the disorder can be controlled, the people suffering from these illnesses are often discriminated against, in the workplace as well as in personal relationships. Those with mental illnesses are often stereotyped and are thought to be unstable and unreliable. This can affect their jobs, how they work with others, and even whether they are allowed to rent or purchase a home. This consistent bias against people with mental illness can keep them from participating fully in society.

Even more dangerously, misconceptions about how mental illness works can cause mentally ill people to delay treatment or stop taking medications because they don't want to put their jobs or living situations at risk, or are afraid of what others will think. Those with a spouse or children might also be afraid of the stigma their families may experience.

History of Mental Illness

The stigma and negative perceptions of mental illness can be traced back though history. People with behavioral or mental disorders were once considered ''mad'' or ''crazy'', and were sometimes executed because their behavior was believed to be immoral and criminal. Once asylums were established, people could be deemed mad and locked up for disagreeing with societal norms. Women of the Victorian era could be committed for cheating on their husbands, which was considered ''moral insanity,'', and women experiencing postpartum depression and even epilepsy were sometimes put in asylums as well. Even longer ago, some believed that mental illness was caused by possession by a devil or demon. In Ancient Mesopotamia people prayed and used mystical energies and stones to try to exorcise the demons.

Unfortunately, this mindset seems to have bled into the present. Behavioral issues are believed to be imagined, or an indication of a lack of self-control. That if the illness is not something that can be seen - like a broken arm - then it must not exist.

Types of Mental Illness

Alcoholism is a type of mental illness
Depression

Let's take a closer look at a few different types of mental illness and the negative perceptions and social stigmas associated with them.

  • Depression
  • Bi-Polar disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Drug and alcohol addiction
  • Bulimia and anorexia
  • Tourette Syndrome

All of these have been considered mental illnesses, and all of them carry a stigma. People with mental illnesses are sometimes perceived as being volatile, though most of these illnesses do not even have this as a symptom. Nonetheless, when working with someone who has a mental illness, it is important to note that many still believe they are likely to hurt others. The lack of education on these illnesses and what they mean for those who have them has created stereotypes and discrimination.

The stigma of depression
Depression

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