Sunday, November 29, 2015

Mental Illness and Social Stigma

Below you will find an article I wrote many years ago about stigma, probably soon after I realized I had to live with it. 

Isolated woman dealing with depression
Depiction of the isolation and grief
associated with mental illness,
courtesy of Baker131313 
Unfortunately for those among us who suffer from a mental illness, there is a certain stigma that comes with any diagnosis. Because mental illnesses are not visible on x-rays and in blood tests, some people doubt the credibility of sufferers. Even though mental illnesses are diagnosed, treated and researched by professionals every day there are still those people who would view them as an excuse to be different or make fun of the people who suffer from them. There are even those who know they exist, but remain unsympathetic.

When someone who is suffering from a mental illness displays symptoms of it they will often hear remarks like "snap out of it" or "what's wrong with you?". People who witness someone having an anxiety attack or a mood swing often don't display the same sympathy they would for someone displaying symptoms of something less "emotional." This is even true of some healthcare professionals. Oftentimes this callous treatment and lack of sympathy make the sufferer feel even more isolated, depressed and anxious than they were to begin with. Fear of displaying these symptoms in public keeps many people with a mental illness from holding a job and leading a "normal" life.

Another aspect of the stigma attached to mental illness is the assumption that everyone who suffers from them is "crazy." Certainly there are mental illnesses that render the sufferer insane, but there are many victims of these illnesses that are far from being crazy. Mental illnesses are frequently misunderstood along with their victims. It is much easier to dismiss someone as insane than it is to attempt to understand these people and their diseases.

Of course there are some people who are afraid of people with mental illness. Some of these diseases and disorders are unpredictable and at times very frightening. It is natural to fear them. Unfortunately, this fear leaves the sufferer with fewer opportunities for friendships and other healthy relationships.

Victims of mental illness are often aware of the stigma that comes with being mentally ill. Unlike sufferers of most other disorders, people with mental illnesses have to deal with being judged as a consequence of being sick. Again, unlike other illnesses, fear of being judged or disliked can make many mental illnesses worse.

No matter how much proof of these diseases exists or how much evidence there is of the horror their victims suffer, some people continue to treat them as "fake" illnesses. Hopefully, in the future, people will treat sufferers of these illnesses with more sympathy and less denial.

Note: If you are a victim of mental health stigma, check out NAMI, an organization fighting to end the stigma associated with mental illness.