Stigma and Mental Illness

It's common to view someone who is different in a negative manner and to believe that all stereotypes are true. This is a reality for those with mental illness since society, generally, feels uncomfortable about this type of sickness. Too many people have the misperception that those who have mental illness are dangerous or have weak characters. It's an invisible sickness that's poorly understood unlike a more visible disease like cancer or heart disease where an individual can see pictures of the physical damage causes by these illnesses.

Distorted Views of Mental Illness

Mental illness tends to be sensationalized in television and movies where those who have it are shown as unpredictable, highly aggressive and dangerous. Daily casual and incorrect use of terms like "crazy" or "lunatic" reinforce that mental illness is not much more than a joke. Even the supposedly unbiased media tends to provide a distorted view in its reporting of mental illness. Too often the only time the sickness receives extensive coverage is when mental illness is connected to violence. In reality, the percentage of people with mental diseases who are violent is very small.

Effects of Stigma

These distorted views of mental illness can sometimes cause someone who needs help not to seek it. These same people would visit a doctor if they became physically ill but the fear of rejection and of being blamed stops many with mental sicknesses from getting the help they should. Mental illness has become a whispered disease where families are too ashamed to openly acknowledge a loved one is sick when they wouldn't feel the same way about a physical illness. Those suffering from mental illness often suffer from rejections and exclusions which can negatively affect their self-esteem and make it difficult for them to make friends.

Battling Stigma

There's no denying that battling the stigma about mental illness is difficult. Realistically, it will be a long time before society as a whole no longer considers mental sicknesses as something to be ashamed of or as an illness caused by something terrible the afflicted did. The best way to battle the stigma is through knowledge and the facts. Mental illness is not caused by anything the afflicted did. In most cases there are genetic factors. These genetic factors can be made worse through environmental factors. Sometimes environmental stressors alone can trigger mental illness. Environmental stressors include torture, poverty, war, neglect, abandonment, isolation and severe abuse. Mental illnesses can also be triggered by substance abuse.


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