The Stigma and Branding of Mental Illness
Mental illness can strike anyone at anytime! It knows no age limits, economic status, race, creed or color. Yet despite widespread efforts to reduce the stigma attached to mental illness, Americans still perceive it as shameful. The Surgeon General, after reviewing scientific evidence, concluded that the stigma attached to mental illness constituted the “primary barrier” to treatment and recovery. Stigma could be reduced, many believed, if people could be convinced that mental illnesses were “real” brain disorders and not volitional behaviors for which people should be blamed and punished. Many prominent reports emphasize scientific understanding as a way to reduce stigma, according to a new study published online this past September 15, 2013 in the American Journal of Psychiatry. (1)
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that by the year 2020 mental illness will be the second leading cause of death and disability.(2) Ultimately, every society across borders and cultures alike will have to address the issue. However the question that arises in my mind is how will they? Will the issue of mental illness be embraced with awareness or will it be even further buried by the stigma that buries it in present day societies everywhere?
For someone with a mental illness, the consequences of stigma can be completely devastating. Being labeled with mental ilness creates feelings of anger; frustration, shame and low self-esteem and can cause discrimination at home, work, and school and in other areas of your life.
According to the medical profession, the biggest obstacle to people with mental health issues reaching out for treatment is the feeling of being ashamed and frightened of its consequences once they have been labeled. Another contributing obstacle for people not reaching out for treatment is continuously staying in denial.
Mental illness is seen as a weakness, which I call a mind condition, or a mind injury, which causes pain of the mind and body. Many people with mental illness feel weak and vulnerable. I too know these feelings as I have been a victim and have suffered from the consequences of being branded for life. Once I was branded, the constant ongoing stigma and monitoring of all my actions was degrading, demoralizing and used as a weapon to bully me into submission from family, so called friends, business associates and even the law. People with mental illness are judged very harshly even by some members of the medical profession.
One of the biggest challenges in breaking the stigma of mental illness is where it is perceived by others that you are ‘not balanced’ or ‘not of sound mind’, or ‘not quite right’ or ‘irrational’. Your state of mind is always in question, which leads to emotional abuse and you being made vulnerable from the very real threat of having people question your state of mind. Emotional blackmail is very destructive and is used as a weapon by families in dispute, partners, employers, lawyers and even doctors. Mental illness is also used as a weapon in many marriage break-ups with one spouse accusing the other person of being an unfit parent. Family, friends, colleagues or others you know who have never experienced being labeled as a person with mental illness lack complete understanding of what it really means.
Stigma is evident when you compare the reaction of people when you tell them you have cancer, as opposed to telling them that you have a mental illness, for instance bi-polar disorder. They are sympathetic towards a physical illness but very judgmental of a mental illness and may conjure up all sorts of excuses to avoid you. In healthcare, insurance doesn’t adequately cover mental illness bills for the belief that you will never be able to succeed at certain challenges or that you can’t improve your situation.
Many feel that mental illness is genetic; and that they have no way of overcoming it. It is my strong belief that many mental illnesses can be overcome and be cured, and can be initially caused by learnt behavior. A combination of stresses of life, what one is exposed to over a long period of time and making poor lifestyle choices.
WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?
Awareness of the condition is very important and helps prevent it escalating to the next level. Stress Pandemic: 9 Natural Steps Will Help Break the Cycle and the LifeReStyle Process will help you develop resilience to the stigma and branding surrounding mental illness. Prevention is the key; it is far better than recovery.
How can we demolish the wall of stigma if we cannot find the courage to express our experiences with mental illness, to not feel so alone, don’t have doubt and share, and most of all have hope that you will beat the stigma. Try our best to never give up. We think we are the only one with the problem. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Never ever give up. You are not alone.
By PAUL HULJICH – Author, Stress Pandemic - ed2. (June 6, 2014)