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Destroying the Stigma of Mental Health Disorders

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Clinically Reviewed by:
Lindsey Rae Ackerman, LMFT

Written by:
Alex Salman, MPH on February 23, 2024

According to the National Alliance on Mental Health Disorders, a widely regarded resource of mental health support, 1 in 5 Americans suffer from some form of mental health disorder in any given year. That means that roughly 20% of the people you meet every day struggle with anxiety, depression, bi-polar, schizophrenia or any number of other disorders or combinations thereof. That is a lot of people. Yet, despite the large numbers these disorders affect, the stigmatization of them still dictates most public opinions. Recent years have displayed a vast shift towards acceptance and support for people with mental health disorders. Though, there is still much more that can be done to remove the stigma that surrounds living with and treating mental disorder.

The term “stigma” is defined as “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person”. It is often seen applied to discriminated minorities or repeat offender criminals. All in all, stigma is rooted in prejudice. And in the realm of mental health can, at times, be more damaging than the disorder itself.

In this article we will debunk some long-held myths about mental illness. Our attempt is to educate the reader and combat these stigmas. Also, we will detail how these negative attitudes surrounding mental illness not only affects people from the external world onto them, but also from within. Finally, we will examine some prominent, and probably surprising, celebrities and public figures that have struggled with mental illness.

Commonly Held Myths Surrounding Mental Illness

Hollywood and the popular media have done a fantastic job over the years categorizing and stigmatizing individuals with mental illnesses as distasteful, spineless and dangerous. As a result, these stereotypical beliefs as well as the stigma have trickled down and engulf conversations as soon as the words ‘mental health’ are brought up. The majority of common conception surrounding mental health is myth. What follows are some, but not all, misbeliefs widely held about mental illness:

  • Depression stems from a lack of will, and people should ‘snap out of it’
  • Addiction is a lifestyle choice and a character flaw
  • All people with Schizophrenia are violent
  • People with mental illness lack intelligence
  • Mental illnesses are lifelong, and those affected never recover

As you can see, these examples are exaggerated to prove a point. Though, the mentality behind them, albeit not grounded in fact, is very present. Unfortunately, most who’ve struggle with some form of mental illness or another have experienced these types of negative opinions that surround them and their respective issues.

Physical Health Disorders vs Mental Health Disorders

Unlike illnesses of the physical type, mental disorders are approached with the idea that the sufferer has some sort of control over the fact that they are affected. This could not be further from the truth. Telling someone who suffers from depression that they should just “get over it” is akin to telling someone with poor eyesight that they should just “see better”. Or, a paraplegic that they should “just walk.” Honestly it is utterly ridiculous. Yet this seems to be the tone that we take towards individuals that struggle in the realms of disease unperceivable to the naked eye.

Refuting some of the aforementioned myths, it should be noted that mental illnesses are not a choice that the affected individual makes. Additionally, they are not statistically linked to higher percentages of violent crimes. They are actually at a higher risk of having violence committed upon them. Also contrary to popular belief, people with mental illness are no less intelligent, creative or productive than anyone else. They can learn to live in harmony with their disorder. Often times, fully recovering to a near-normal state with proper treatment.

Mental Health Stigma is a Double-Edged Sword

We have identified that stigma negatively affects those who struggle with mental illness. But why is that so? Life for those affected by mental illness is not only difficult because of the symptoms associated with their disease, but also by the perception they garner from the outside Not to mention the way in which they perceive themselves. This is why the stigma is presented as a double-edged sword.

An example would look like this: Some hold a negative belief (stereotype) that people who suffer from mental illness are violent. What follows is prejudice that endorses the negative stereotype. In turn, this usually encompasses a negative emotion (fear.) As a result, this prejudice leads to discrimination. For example, employers choosing not to hire those with mental illness due to the fear that they will be violent.

Most stigmas follow this same basic pattern to some extent. What goes along with this is something defined as “self-stigma.” This refers to the idea that the person being marginalized has similar beliefs. But, instead of them being imposed from the outside, they are internalized. This leads some with mental illness to not look for work. They may fear that they will fall in line with the stereotype that precedes them. Or, they agree with the negative behavioral stereotype and suffer from low self-esteem. This fact only complicates the already crippling symptoms those with mental illness experience.

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Fortunately for those of us who struggle with or have struggled with mental disorders, changes are being observed in our society. They herald in a new age of tolerance and acceptance in the mental health field. Overall awareness of mental health is at an all-time high currently. Not only that, prominent celebrities have allowed the spotlight to go a little deeper than their stage characters. Often times they speak out on their own difficulties with mental health. Some of these include famous singer songwriter Adele. She struggles with depression. Actor Ryan Reynolds described his lifelong anxiety as crippling. Another major spokesperson for mental health awareness recently has been Demi Lovato. She struggles with depression as well as substance abuse disorder and has gone public with much of her personal battles.

Education is the absolute most important factor for combating the stigma of mental illness. As more people are educated on the realities of mental health, and the myths are slowly weeded out, we will hopefully see a greater increase in widespread tolerance and a greater emphasis on therapy and treatment. As always, if you or someone you know is struggling with any form of mental illness, please seek help from a professional and remember that recovery is possible.

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