What are the Stigmas of Mental Illness?

B. Schreiber

Common stigmas of mental illness often contribute to the portrayal of mentally ill people as abnormal, morally weak, or dangerous. In some cases they may be expected to get over it or face similar expectations. These views are at odds with a scientific and psychiatric understanding of mental health. Such stigmas often have a negative effect on the treatment of mental illness. They may also impair a person's ability to find employment, housing, or educational opportunities.

Stigmas of mental illness often lead to the portrayal of a mentally ill person as being weak.
Stigmas of mental illness often lead to the portrayal of a mentally ill person as being weak.

Mental illness is sometimes associated with institutions or the need for lifelong care by family or guardians. The mentally ill may also be thought of as unable to make decisions for themselves or to have become ill through weakness. Like other negative stereotypes, the stigmas of mental illness are not usually in line with available evidence. Most people with mental illness are able to live on their own, hold or excel in their jobs, and otherwise meet the challenges of life.

The stigmas of mental illness have a number of negative effects. One of these is that people may not seek help for psychiatric problems if they feel that they should be able to overcome them on their own. It can also lead to shame or guilt in afflicted persons, which can increase their isolation. Due to these attitudes, some people with mental illness may choose not to get potentially beneficial treatment. Some consider this a special problem in the case of children, who can fall behind in their educational development.

Some stigmas of mental illness have to do with the public perception of violent acts being committed by mentally ill people. Advocates for the mentally ill argue that these are often sensationalized cases and certainly not representative of most people with such an illness. In some cases, violent acts may have been committed by people without access to a psychological or psychiatric services. Advocates say this is an argument for increased services and better public awareness.

Popular media portrayals of violent people as having some type of mental illness have likely contributed to this stigma. Mental health advocates argue such stigmas only make the public understanding of mental health worse. They may also make those in the public less likely to help the mentally ill seek treatment.

Throughout history, there have been many superstitious stigmas of mental illness. Although these views are still represented in older literature and media, there is evidence that views about mental illness are changing. For instance, in the United States, surveys have shown more public acceptance of depression as a health issue rather than a personal failing or fault.

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