Stigma: Society's impact on the mentally ill

Discussion in 'Soap Box' started by LightInTheDarkestNight, Aug 5, 2011.

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  1. LightInTheDarkestNight

    LightInTheDarkestNight Well-Known Member

    When invited to do a paper on this topic, the first thing one does is
    seek out the old reliable dictionary for a definition of stigma. I
    came up with the following: A stigma is a shameful reputation that
    a particular action or way of behaving has because so many people
    disapprove of it. If something is stigmatised a lot of people regard
    it as shameful.
    Are mentally ill people stigmatised? The answer to this it would
    appear depends of what one means by mentally ill. In fact it may
    depend on how recognizable they are as mentally ill, how
    significantly different the mentally ill are from the rest of us and
    what type of mental illness one is considering.
    I have counselled people for 20 years. In the early days my clients
    used to park around the corner and ask if there was a back entrance
    to the office. Now most park out the front and hope people see
    them coming in. Having psychotherapy has moved from being a
    stigma, to being a status symbol. One now commonly sees
    mentally ill people being counselled on worldwide television
    shows like Oprah. With traumatic events like earthquakes, random
    shootings and so forth it is now openly stated that the police,
    ambulance officers and emergency service personnel involved in
    such tragedies receive counselling. The stigma for this sort, or
    level of mental illness is less evident. It is far more accepted now.
    However, when I recently took two groups of about 7 mentally ill
    people on ARAFMI holidays, there appeared to be a much
    different reaction from the public in general to these individuals
    than to those who come to me for counselling. As far as stigmas go, yes there is a difference, it would seem, between having a
    phobia and being a person with schizophrenia. It is perceived as
    different for a policeman who has been traumatized by removing
    bits of bodies from under a train, to being a person who is seen as
    having manic-depression. Perhaps society is moving in the right
    direction by there being less of a stigma for the neuroses or normal
    mental illness, but there still is a stigma for many of the psychoses.
    While we may be able to conclude that a stigma exists at least for
    the psychoses, the next question must be - Why does a stigma
    exist? If we look at some historical factors we are given insight
    into an answer for this question. The famous movie Dr Jeckl and
    Mr Hyde portrays an individual with a split personality. This for
    many has become associated with schizophrenia. Of course anyone
    with even a small understanding of schizophrenia knows that this
    mental illness has nothing to do with a split personality. Such a
    personality is more along the lines of a multiple personality
    disorder. However as far as society goes that basically does not
    compute, and the character of Dr Jeckl and Mr Hyde is commonly
    seen as a schizophrenic.
    More to the point however, Mr Hyde is portrayed as both evil and
    dangerous. When Martin Bryant shot 35 people at Port Arthur in
    Tasmania it did not take the media long to begin asking, or at times
    just stating outright that he must be mentally ill or schizophrenic.
    The entire cover of Who Weekly magazine of December 1996
    carried Martin Bryant's photograph with the title - AUSTRALIAN
    PSYCHO. Such portrayals are not uncommon. Whenever there is
    some infamous act of violence the media regularly raise this
    question, or just assume straight away the person must be mentally
    ill. From the media the general public get regular confirmation that
    mentally ill people are violent and dangerous. Some indeed are but
    they constitute a very small minority. There is much more
    likelihood of a sane person being violent and dangerous.

    Other historical factors that encourage a stigma could include the
    comparison that has been made between witches and warlocks and
    the mentally ill. The fact that in the past mentally ill people were
    locked up in institutions which were disdainfully called the looney
    bin or the nut house. The people in such institutions are often
    portrayed as looking odd and weird. They are seen to do such
    things like shouting out for no reason and other socially
    unacceptable behaviour like inappropriate urination, defecation
    and sexual acts. While these do occur in some forms of psychoses
    they are only a very small minority. A normal person under the
    influence of alcohol is much more likely to do such things.
    However with the mentally ill these are what will get noticed and
    Also if society can define the mentally ill as being like that then
    this reassures us others that we are normal because we do not do
    things like that. It also allows an expression of prejudice or bigotry
    in society. It provides a justifiable focal point for prejudice by
    some. The bullies in society who have prejudicial beliefs can focus
    those beliefs on the mentally ill.
    Any minority group with a poor ability to articulate and repeatedly
    state their needs and wants is going to be poorly resourced and
    often viewed in a non-ok fashion. The psychotic by definition have
    a thinking disorder of some description and thus are not going to
    be good at articulating their needs. They will have very little
    political power and little ability to stand up against the bully and
    the prejudiced. In conclusion it would seem that there are a number
    of reasons from a number of perspectives as to why a stigma exists
    for the mentally ill.

    How do the mentally ill lose from such a stigma? The obvious first
    point is that they lose -- or suffer is perhaps a more accurate word -
    - from a loss of self esteem. If one is told often enough by many
    people that they are not good, not contributing, weird, dangerous and abnormal then one will start to believe it.
    Even the individual
    with the strongest sense of self will finally believe what others say
    about him if it is said often enough. The mentally ill individual
    usually does not have a strong positive self image or belief that
    they are a good, contributing member of society. So when they are
    portrayed time and again with the stigma it does not take them long
    to start believing what is said.

    Indeed it is not just what is said but also what is done, or not done.
    It would be safe to say that the majority in society are kind and
    considerate and want the best for others. Most of us would not
    want mentally ill people to feel marginalized, to feel inferior and to
    feel bad about themselves. Unfortunately when the stigma is
    stated, whether that be in private statements by individuals, public
    portrayals in the media, or by the looks and avoidance behaviour of
    the general public, these tend to get noticed and remembered. The
    minority of the general public who for whatever reason need to
    deprecate the mentally ill tend to get heard and the majority who
    want the best for the mentally ill tend to remain silent. So the
    stigma is perpetuated as much by silence as by prejudicial
    This silent majority may seem like a nice, good group of people
    and members of this group may even gain solace for themselves in
    that belief. They may even attempt to reassure themselves that they
    are not biased or bigoted against the mentally ill. That may even be
    true but there remains one other fact which they cannot deny. The
    majority of the silent majority play the bystander role, or they
    would not be silent! Their thoughts and actions go along the lines
    of, I myself do not think mentally ill people are strange and a drain
    on society, but I do not do anything about it. They stand on the side
    and do nothing. If the silent majority stopped being silent, the
    stigma against the mentally ill would quickly vanish. But they do
    not, they remain as bystanders, and bystanders support prejudice
    and ridicule by inaction. It seems safe to conclude that if they really wanted to do something about the stigma then they would
    not be a silent bystander.
    So society does have a stigma about the mentally ill. That seems
    beyond question. It is however a double edged sword. This unfair
    discrimination is indeed unfair. But what does the mentally ill
    individual, and those around them, do with that knowledge? It can
    be used to motivate action to fight the stigma both at a political
    level and at an individual to individual level.
    On the other side it can lead to the mentally ill individual taking on
    the victim position. Poor me or Ain't life awful are easy positions
    to fall into for the mentally ill. It is a safe position, as one can
    easily use it to justify their inaction, or their giving up on life. They
    can believe - What is the point of doing anything if society thinks I
    am no good.
    It is an unfortunate reality of life that in the human species it is the
    politically strong that get treated best and get the most resources.
    Throughout the history of mankind I do not know of any politically
    weak group in any society who has fared well in the long term. The
    mentally ill certainly have not. As a result of their illness they have
    always been political infants. Throughout history societies have
    essentially dealt with the mentally ill by putting them away
    somewhere. Keeping them out of sight. Long term favourable and
    fair treatment has been rare for this group over history.
    To hope that this aspect of human nature is going to be different in
    our lifetimes or even the next few generations is false hope. We
    can even think that it should be different, and that it is not fair.
    Indeed it is not fair and it should be different, but that is how it is
    and how it is going to remain at least in the near future. The
    mentally ill and those around them need to actively avoid the
    victim standpoint. To feel maligned or hard done by as a result of
    the stigma will do no good, in fact it will harm. The stigma is there, it must be recognized for what it is, it needs to
    be confronted at a societal or political level, but as importantly it is
    each individual mentally ill person who must fight for their own
    self image and demand respect from others. This is what will
    really, finally, bring the long term demise of the stigma against
    mentally ill people.

    Tony White - Psychologist

    A few comments myself it seems when someone does something like murder or even worse a serial killer people are quick to label him a "nutcase" or some "crazy person" the reality is most murderers, true sociopaths or serial killers are sane people. People are ignorant and they don't think sane people are capable of doing atrocious or horrendous things like that, this perpetuates stigma that mentally ill people are dangerous and violent...

    People are also ignorant to external factors which may make a person temporarily insane or have psychosis, many traumas, or an illness(virus), possibly even underlying genetics. Those with autoimmune disease are more prone to psychosis even those who are geniuses or near are more as well.

    Mentally ill people are much more likely to be victims rather then perpetrators. Bullies like to pick on weaker target or those who are less likely to defend themselves if someone is mentally their probably less likely to be assertive therefore being more humble. By being cruel and attacking a person with a fragile psyche, and then using self justification or others means to rationalize one's behavior is quite disturbing.
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