The Stigma of Mental Illness

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So, I might be short and to the point here.  Mostly because I know I’m going to get a pretty big workout in the comments.  My opinion has also been stated here a few times, but I felt like bringing up the topic once more.

One of the most interesting things that I’ve noticed over the last year is that there is a lot of shame attached to mental illness.  Some by the sufferer and others by those who think they are helping.  I’ve always wondered why this is, but it feels more or more like the stigmas are built into society.  Don’t let them know you see a therapist.  Why?  Because you’ll never get a job, get married, have kids, or be able to do anything.  Never reveal that you’re on medications.  Why?  Because you’ll never get a job, get married, have kids, or be able to anything.  It’s like people with mental illness are being asked to ‘not be who they are’, which makes the problem infinitely worse.  Imagine struggling with anxiety and then being told that your anxiety will cause all these problems, so you need to hide it.  Now, you’re anxious about revealing that you’re anxious.  It’s just emotionally and mentally destructive.

Now, I mentioned therapy and medication in there too.  The strangest thing is that these are actions that show an intent to get a handle on one’s illness.  Yet, we use them as marks of shame.  People who go in for chemo or have to use an inhaler for asthma aren’t treated like this.  The reason might be because those are physical diseases, which are easier to wrap our heads around than mental.  I wonder if there’s a fear when it comes to mental illness too.  A person might push for someon to get better quickly because then it means it isn’t that big a deal if they themselves have one.  There’s no infection when it comes to these things, but helping a person with severe mental illness can trigger ones in the helper if they are stressed too much.  If you can convince a person to get over their depression then maybe you can do it too in the future.  This is ridiculous, of course.

Honestly, I’m just throwing ideas out there because I really can’t see the point in stigmatizing mental illness.  Especially these days when you have the Internet and more connections than ever.  It’s easier to trigger a breakdown because of some jackass online or to indulge in certain harmful activities.  If anything, society should be pushing for these issues to be brought to the light and teach more people about them.  Maybe have a time in high school where students learn about things like depression, anxiety, etc. and get to share their thoughts.  Make it a discussion class and try to eliminate the stigma with the younger generations.  Just a thought, which has some downsides because you don’t want to upset anyone who is currently suffering.

Anyway, what do you think about the mental illness stigma?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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68 Responses to The Stigma of Mental Illness

  1. I believe there is a stigma for sure. I’m not certain the cause. Maybe it’s a fear in those who stigmatize that they will be discovered when they are actually trying to hide a similar condition. You are so right when it comes to admitting seeking help. People walk away in droves. I have a difficult time understanding that behavior. After my marriage failed I was in counseling for two years. Anytime I brought the subject up I would get the question, “So what’s wrong with you?” After two years I found out nothing was wrong with me and I faced life with fewer friends but a healthier outlook. Super discussion point, Charles.

    Liked by 5 people

    • “What is wrong with you?” is such a painful question. Especially when one is in a counseling session. It simply puts the onus on you as if you decided to be that way. Maybe the cause of the stigma comes from the historical opinion in society that those with these issues are ‘defective’. Sometimes even contagious. It’s really just a messed up and wrong way to think about mental illness.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. Stigma is real. Coming from the viewpoint of a mother with a child having depression and from the viewpoint of a registered nurse who took care of veterans in the VA hospital in Denver, I could discuss this in a book length post. Just because one doesn’t ‘see’ an illness, does’t make a person well. Often, there are things the mentally ill person will do that doesn’t help at all, such as stopping medications when one is better, as in schizophrenia and multiple personalities. In this scenario, the mentally ill person causes his/her own behavior to be outside of the perceived normal. The same is true of bipolar and mood swings. Interestingly, some of the best actors in Hollywood are bipolar. or instance, Catherine Zeta-Jones is bipolar, and it hasn’t affected her career actually, if anything, she brings more to her roles. Britney Spears is a sad case and stigma was attached to her viciously in response to her actions that were way out of line during her major meltdown. Some people shunned Britney. Stigmatized her to no end and made it even worse for her. Why as a society, do some of us hound persons just to catch a glimpse of a meltdown and milk it for all it’s worth? I could go on and on and extrapolate to no end this issue. PTSD is huge. My son has PTSD. He’s not getting better despite counsel and medications. He is traumatized by his little brother having cancer, the devastation wrought on all of us, and eventual death. They were close, like twins. But my son cannot speak of his PTSD to anyone as they don’t understand what the full significance of this situation is, and will be for a long time to come. In summary, society is ignorant and they don’t want to change.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Britney Spears could be a good example of the right and wrong way to handle things. She’s a lot better now that she’s gotten help. So, you can see the downward spiral and get some hope from her coming out of that. You do make a good point that some people seem to push for the meltdown. It’s rather ghoulish whether it be for money or entertainment. People love a train wreck at times, which could a species-wide mental illness to some extent. Sorry that your son isn’t getting any better. Hope he can find something that works out for him.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Yes, Britney got help, but she still has a conservatorship – her father – not only is he her protector in managing her financial affairs and/or daily life, but the fact is that Britney can easily go down again – mentally – and her father has the power to place her in an environment to help her mentally if he deems it necessary. A judge ordered this and Britney, herself, wants to keep it in place. That she is willing to keep this in place says a lot without saying it. He is her protector and she realizes that she be triggered into doing something way out of the norms for a culture, and that culture is us. Not all of us, but some want to see the bad side of celebrities. I fail to understand these people. I’m ashamed of these people. Everyone needs to make a buck but the line is crossed time and again, for the sleazy tabloids. Princess Diana had depression and bulimia. She was the most sought after and hounded person in the world, and being chased caused her death. As a human being, as a society in general, we need to stop this practice and allow others to be who they are, and simply accept people for their uniqueness. No belittling others for their mental illness, or other ‘unseemly’ qualities. My son won’t get better. No changing his mind on having children of his own, way to much cancer in so many family members, and some passed away, others are close to passing, and his best friend has cancer, a type that will kill him eventually, esophageal in stage IV spread to lungs and liver. My son is having a hard time dealing with this. So are some people in general – those who want to ignore others who have cancer – those who treat them like they have a plague. My personal life and nursing career has shown this to me time and again. Maybe I’m rambling now, Charles, but I simply dislike some of societies behaviours. Thought provoking post, Charles.

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      • Sorry to hear that about your son. As far as the conservatorship situation, I think it does come in handy for people who may have self-destructive habits. I don’t want to speak on the specific Britney situation since I don’t really know it. Yet, I have met people who need the help if only for a little time. I’ve met others who refuse and let their mental illness call the shots to the point of disaster. Might be missing the culture thing you mention since I’m not sure you mean in general or celebrity. Being able to acknowledge that one needs help is always an important and probably the hardest step. Much of that stems from the fear of being ‘broken’ in the eyes of society and then being punished. Even somethings as common as anxiety or depression are frowned upon, which strikes me as wrong.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Exactly, Charles! War heroes come back with PTSD and more, they are often shunned, and the ones who came back from the horrors of Viet Nam war came back and were vilified by he USA. We didn’t belong over there in the first place, and then those who were drafted fought, and came back dead or so badly hurt mentally and emotionally, and physically and may in our country ostracized them, and most were actually drafted without choice! These war veterans needed our help and not be shunned by society. My son just can’t handle the situation with his PTSD and medicine doesn’t help. Therapy doesn’t help. He is adamant he wants no kids at all. I give him nurturing support and will to my dying day. I can’t blame him for how he feels as I understand it all too well myself. Britney needed her father to step in and continue on as her conservator, and he does a great job. Culturally in general as a society and what/how people react to the stigma of mental illness. The stigma of Viet Nam vets, the stigma of depression, the stigma and perceived notions society has towards those who suffer some sort of mental illness. I honestly doubt that any one single person doesn’t have a bit of depression or something as we all are products of everything that has been a part of our lives, and that means at least a loss of loved ones. Not one single person in my extended family has been untouched by this stigma of mental illness. This bit you wrote hits the nail on the head: “Much of that stems from the fear of being ‘broken’ in the eyes of society and then being punished. Even somethings as common as anxiety or depression are frowned upon, which strikes me as wrong.” I am in total agreement.

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  3. I think stigma, as you put it, has a lot to do with the ‘invisible ‘ nature of the disability. I use a wheelchair, which is obvious and easy to spot, and to some extent, to understand. Mental health problems can be equally disabling, but if people are one step removed from a physical disability, they may feel several steps removed from an invisible one. In the UK, it is only recently that the government has acknowledged that mental health has been looked at as the poor cousin when it comes to disability, particularly when looking at disability benefits. I think it has a lot to do with understanding and just as it has taken us into the 21st century to get to grips with some physical disabilities, it may take a lot longer for mental health to be seen in the same way.

    Liked by 4 people

    • I agree, Steve. Such is the case. Sigma happens to those with a ‘seen’ health issue, too. For instance, I have had a lung removed due to having a typical carcinoid cancer. Chemo and radiation doesn’t kill this particular neuro-endocrine system cancer. Removal is the cure. I wear oxygen 24/7. People look at me and and I hear them talking about ‘such a shame she smoked, see where it got her in the end’, and so on.They are ignorant to the possibility that oxygen is for a issue that isn’t smoking related. I shall rest my case now, as I know this discussion could go on for days on end.

      Liked by 3 people

    • Understanding is definitely an important factor here. This is one reason why I wonder if mental health issues should be taught in school. We seem to only touch on them when they cause an ‘event’ that forces us to face the topic. The visibility is another thing, which explains why some people think it’s easy to get over or doesn’t exist in the first place. A person with depression will get told that they’re only sad, to get over it, or any long list of callous suggestions that one wouldn’t even think of saying to someone in a wheelchair. Means we have to make the invisible more visible then.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. Deskraven says:

    I often feel shameful when I stray from typical or rational behavior as a result of my mental illness – especially at the expense of someone else. I find it embarrassing and oppositional toward my loving nature. Ending stigma definitely starts with self acceptance and awareness. Thank you for writing. ♡

    Liked by 1 person

  5. There’s a stigma against everything these days, but I’m actually noticing a huge shift in the public opinion on mental illness. I feel it’s almost shifted the other way: that it’s trendy to blame one’s problems on a mental condition.

    I have experience with mild varieties of mental illnesses myself, so I do not experience the stigma you describe. In fact, I’m very open about struggles and counseling and such. Then again, I’m not out in the workforce.

    When I see friends and relatives with more serious conditions, however, you are right that limitations and stigma are there. I’m bothered that someone who smokes can have 15 minute breaks, but someone with schizophrenia cannot take a bad day off. I’m bothered that health insurances do not pay for mental health services, even though there is a lot of research indicating that medicine AND therapy are the only lasting solution for fighting the daily mental battle.

    Liked by 3 people

    • There is the trend to blame problems on mental illness, but that ends up making a mockery of the whole thing. Kind of like when someone says they’re depressed, but mean they’re just sad. It can cause people to think someone who is actually admitting their depression are exaggerating. I can’t understand the sudden push to claim a mental illness too. I’ve seen a lot of people swearing they have anxiety, depression, OCD, and bipolar, but then they don’t show any symptoms. I try to believe them, but then things seem to not quite fit. Might be a curse of the Internet too because anybody can claim to be anything and you just can’t tell.

      Mental health days should be a thing for everyone. Those who don’t have a mental illness can be stressed to the point of gaining one. Why let things go that far when it makes more sense to prevent it from happening in the first place?

      Liked by 4 people

  6. I tend to agree with your view point here, Charles. I have mentioned before that my son suffers from chronic PTSD and OCD. No-one understands his condition, including his father (my husband) and my own parents. They get frustrated with him and shout at him sometimes. This makes him worse. I try to explain that it is like having your brain in a wheelchair. You would never shout at a disabled person because they couldn’t do a particular thing. It is the same really.

    Liked by 5 people

  7. davidprosser says:

    The stigma attached to mental health problems can cause such pain because people think you’re faking. Because of that and the feeling of shame that attaches itself to someone mentally unwell your treatment can take a lot longer as you don’t tell the mental health professionals the extent of your problems. Saying you’re sad when in fact you’re deeply depressed can take a lot longer to diagnose that you may be bipolar.
    If people just remember the phrase is mental illness.and place the emphasis on the Illness there might be more empathy and less stigma. You’re right that something should be taught in schools since illness might be recognised in someone you usually make fun of for strange actions.
    Hugs

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    • Interesting point. It does seem like you have people who claim a mental illness as an exaggeration while some of those suffering do the opposite. It’s totally backwards. There should definitely be more of an emphasis on the illness part.

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  8. A lot of it is rooted in fear, I think. People fear what they don’t understand, and often show that fear by reacting negatively to anything connected with it. The same thing happened all the time with disabilities too, and still does in many cases. Mental illnesses suffer most for it because they’re hardest to understand. With physical illnesses there’s physical evidence people can see. With mental illnesses there isn’t.

    Mind you, it also probably doesn’t help that there are people who claim to have mental illnesses and don’t. Those fakers make it even more difficult for those of us with genuine issues to be believed, and our conditions accepted.

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    • And here we thought people loved puzzles and mysteries. Guess it doesn’t count if you’re figuring out a person with a complicated illness. I’ve run into a few of the fakers over the years. They tend to jump on the illness with the most amount of attention at the time. You’ll find that they’ll suddenly be cured or they were wrong the whole time when it gets pushed to a certain point.

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      • Yeah… Or they’ll suddenly have something else with similar symptoms.

        Some people like puzzles, while others don’t. Unfortunately, sometimes both things are a bad thing, since puzzle-lovers will often try to solve the puzzle that is you without having all the pieces, while puzzle-haters will blame you for their dislike of having a puzzle put in front of them, if you catch my drift.

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      • Not sure I follow about the puzzles.

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  9. V.M.Sang says:

    I quite agree with what you say here. It’s weird, really. Mental illness isn’t catching, and people know that, yet they are far more comfortable with someone with a physical illness they can catch that with someone with mental problems. I think it goes back to the Victorians who used to put people in institutions. Even people with learning disabilities. It takes an inordinately long time for things to change.
    However, I would take issue with one thing. While in principle, discussion and teaching in schools might seem ideal, everyone who has something they want to change says ‘Add it to the curriculum.’ As an ex-teacher, I can honestly say that I don’t think there’s time to do this. Something would have to go? What would you suggest cutting?
    Education is the ideal solution, but education of the whole of the public, If only in schools, the kids would go home and then be exposed to all the prejudices of their parents. They are far more likely to pick those up than the lessons in school.
    My nephew has bipolar. He is very lucky in that he has excellent friends and has had a job where the employer was sympathetic and willing to help him. What a pity all employers aren’t like that.
    However, an excellent post.

    Like

    • I’ve wondered if people really do understand that mental illness isn’t contagious. At the very least they show that they don’t want to put the work into befriending such a person.

      Working in education myself, I do understand that you’d have to cut something. Yet, the alternative is to not touch on it at all. We include STD’s in biology classes. Why not add something on mental illness to another class or make it a shorter lesson? As far as the parents go, you can only do so much there. That would require the government getting involved and pushing a forced agenda. At least with kids, their schooling is something you know they’re doing. Heck, make it a week long class that simply goes over the basics. You just need to teach them that mental illness shouldn’t be stigmatized. Don’t even have to grade it. You could also make it a mandatory project.

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  10. Charles, This is a very heartfelt post. Most of us have dealt with some type of mental illness in our families and we know the pain the individual goes through both, because of the illness and because of the stigma that goes with it. In our situation, we had to help our family member through it while we tried to protect her from the idiots out there and equip her to protect herself from them. It’s a daily challenge.

    Great post and discussion.

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  11. Adele Marie says:

    It’s a great idea to discuss mental illness in school. I started to self-harm when I was 11, and it’s only now, that I’m getting to the stage where I can talk about it. I don’t know if it’s a fear of their own mental issues that makes people attach a stigma to mental illness or if it’s the curse of the unseen disease culture.

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  12. People are just afraid. Maybe the info is too personal or they haven’t ever had contact with a mentally ill person. They don’t know what to say and basically start to babble. And they spit out all those well-meant but ignorant cautions. And I know I still fumble sometimes even though my brother’s illness has been known for 30 years.

    So I guess I could ask you what you would want for someone’s response to be?

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    • Personally, I would prefer people don’t talk as if a mental illness is something to be ashamed of or hidden. Many suggestions come across as ‘I know you are sick, but could you try not to show it?’ That hurts and can cause more problems.

      Liked by 2 people

  13. L. Marie says:

    Sigh. Yes, the stigma remains. I’ve mentioned taking Zoloft and going to therapy. Some people look at me like I’m about to go berserk or something.

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  14. Stigma is very real. It’s very sad that I’m 2019 we are even talking about it. Mental Health, Mental Illness in our so called open society is pathetically stigmatized to no end. I am ashamed to say it. I’ve been struggling with my mental health my whole life, only recently I let people know about it. I got fed up and tired of lying about why I don’t want to go out or saying I have a migraine when I’m just not able to get out of bed. PTSD can be triggered so easily, people don’t want to educate themselves about mental health. I don’t get it!! It makes me so angry. Tell your child to stay as strong as they can!!! I don’t want to use profanity but F—- the stigma.

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  15. rutendo123 says:

    I really liked reading this! Stigma towards mental illness such a real part of our society today. It makes acceptance so hard

    Liked by 1 person

  16. betweentwopoles says:

    I was diagnosed as bipolar when I was 19. The fall after I graduated from high school. I tried to reconnect with underclassmen I was friends with, but once they knew I had been diagnosed as bipolar, I never heard from them again. Telling people my diagnosis is a great litmus test for friendships. I choose to see it as a positive, but you are correct. There is a lot of shame and stigma surrounding having a mental illness. You would never tell someone with diabetes not to take insulin because it’s shameful. Yet, somehow, people believe mental illness is just a matter of “getting over it.” There needs to be ways to communicate with people that mental illness is a matter of brain chemistry; it isn’t a matter of choosing to have one or not.

    I’ve accepted my illness, and some aspects of it suck, but I also think I’m able to tap into abilities I wouldn’t have if I wasn’t bipolar. It’s part of who I am, and either people accept that, or they don’t. Being shamed definitely hurts, but there’s no reason to hang out with people who don’t attempt to understand it.

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  17. It lives. It’s active and it’s everywhere in family, friends, colleagues, management’s even found it with Dr’s. Actually feeling really defeated. Thank you for your post

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  18. Great post. Thanks so much for sharing, Charles

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  19. Saro says:

    Hi, thank you so much for this post and conversation. I feel as if my head is in a wheelchair. I would like to post my own blog about this. How do I mention this post? Guess I will just go figure it out. There is so much sorrow about my mental health issues in my heart for so many years. Maybe writing about it will bring some peace.

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  20. Jules says:

    I agree. I have been told so many times not to talk about my mental illness because of the work I do (I work with kids). The sad thing is… i blindly listen. I do talk about it on my social media, but i dont reveal it to my job or people i may be interested in romantically/sexually… its sad i let stigma control me.

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    • I used to have an ‘Anxiety Blog’ on this and had to lock it up. Too many people were telling me that it would be a bad sign. Feel bad about that, but I have seen that people jump to the wrong conclusions when you have even a common mental illness like depression or anxiety. Most days, I wonder if most or all of humanity suffers from a mental illness to some extent.

      Liked by 1 person

  21. Saro says:

    Stigma haunts me now for years. Being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder and now vascular dementia. Well I decided they can just go jump off a cliff. Tomorrow I am addressing about 600 women on mental health. I made notes and pray that I remember what the notes says and hope that I don’t cry too much or battle too much with my speech impairment. But I will do it. I have done it before and will not give up. My life is not over. Bless you dear

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  22. Saro says:

    I did the address the ladies, lost my notes beforehand, cried a lot, but I reached my goal. Someone of health department asked if she can use me when needed.

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  23. Rohini B says:

    I agree a hundred percent! I just started a blog on mental health awareness and my first post was on the stigma around it.
    It’s simple really. When describing someone with a physical illness we say ‘they have cancer, they had a heart attack’, because it’s only a part of them and it doesn’t define them.
    But when it comes to mental illness, it’s ‘he is bipolar, she is borderline’ etc. like that is everything they are.
    It must just be such a simple word play but it makes all the difference. It shows how the world perceives mental illness and mental health. If more people understood that mental illness doesn’t define them, I think they would be more understanding and comfortable to talk to.

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    • It is a difficult issue to consider here. I’ll admit that I say ‘is’ instead of ‘has’ even with my own anxiety. Part of it for me is because it’s mental and emotional. It has a much bigger impact on my personality and mood than a physical disease. So, I find myself almost a slave to it and it becomes a permanent piece of me. That’s just my personal view though. There’s probably a lot of societal influence there.

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  24. There’s definitely stigma with mental illness. For me, as a man and a Christian, I felt a double dose of stigma–being a man with mental illness because of the wrongful ideas that you have to be strong and tough and without emotions, and being a Christian with mental illness because of the wrongful belief among some that you must not be praying hard enough if you have a mental illness.

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  25. I felt nothing but shame for over 25 years. The stigma surrounding mental illness is real. That’s why I do my best to be open and honest about my issues. I think it’s important for me now to be an example of what it’s like to live with mental illnesses. I didn’t see a lot of that growing up. I didn’t even know it would be possible for me to be in a healthy relationship, have a full time job, an apartment, etc. It’s been hard but it’s possible and I’m not ashamed anymore!

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    • I try to be open and honest too. I found it was easier when I worked from home though. Once I started job hunting and going through a divorce, everyone was telling me to hide my anxiety issues. This seemed to make things worse, but I did fear that I would be judged and punished for it. Feels society has made some progress, but not as much as it should have.

      Congrats on not feeling ashamed. That’s great!

      Liked by 1 person

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