Stigma of Mental Health Illness- Society & Culture
Many individuals experience social stigma associated with their mental illness. Historically in society and certain cultures, mental health illnesses have been illegitimated and there was intense shaming towards individuals who were suffering from. Seeking treatment for psychiatric disorders was considered a sign of weakness and personal failure. Resilience was considered the treatment for psychiatric disorders and individuals often suffered silently, further worsening their symptoms.
Society heavily stigmatized mental illness and dismissed symptoms as illusions, individuals who suffered from mental health illness were often ridiculed and labeled as "crazy", and the isolation they experienced made psychiatric treatment near impossible.
Physical Illness vs. Mental Illness
Mental Illnesses are also subject to social stigma due to the manner in which illnesses present themselves in individuals. For physical illnesses the symptoms are material and observable in the body. If an individual breaks a bone, that person often receives immediate medical care, and sympathy from close friends and family who support them as they recover. If an individual suffers for depression, that person may receive sympathy from close friends and family if they feel comfortable to be open with them; however, the sympathy is often superficial in nature. The individual's depressive symptoms are typically regarded as a mood swing and they are encouraged to be strong, to cheer up, the feelings will pass.
Due to the symptoms of mental health illnesses being based in neuro-chemistry, they are often dismissed as figments of psychological illusion. Individuals fear to open up about their symptoms because they fear judgement and the invalidation of their symptoms; they often suffer silently in isolation with their symptoms.
Mental Health Stigma Today
Increasingly, mental health awareness has gained social traction. This is in part due to prominent celebrities opening up about their mental health struggles. This media presence does not necessarily eliminate the stigma associated with mental illness. Many of these celebrities share their stories on social media and receive mixed reviews from readers. Some comments express support and understanding, while others express shame, judgement, skepticism, and criticism.
There have also been very heart breaking tragedies that have claimed the lives of hundreds of innocent people. The individuals responsible for these casualties are demonized by the media and in some instances if they are suffering from a psychiatric disorder, it is often implicated as what drove their actions. This type of coverage reinforces the stigma that the mentally ill are inherently dangerous, evil, and a threat to society. Of course, not all those who suffer from a mental illness will carry out such vicious acts of aggression onto innocent people, but the stigma is widespread and media helps to support this.
Mental health awareness is important not only for those who suffer from a mental illness, but also those who do not. It is important we educate ourselves and help build a world in which the people in our community feel safe and supported. If you feel someone close to you is struggling, helping them to seek treatment is life changing. No one should face their struggles in isolation and shame.