Destigmatizing Mental Illness

destigmatizing mental illness

Destigmatizing mental illness is a vital step towards ensuring more people acknowledge having a mental illness and take steps to treat it (with the help of valid social support if required). There are endless varieties and levels of mental illness… it’s time to stop clinging to a ‘one size fits all’ label.

Anyone can be slapped with the stigmatizing label of insanity when they act outside the scope of society’s expectations. They might be crazy and a danger to others; they might be mentally ill and a danger to themselves. They might not be mentally ill at all, and simply a perceived threat to the current social structure. Some claim people suffering from mental illnesses should be controlled by those without it… because, apparently, these people have the appearance of human beings but are too naïve to fully understand what’s going on. Others claim that that mental disorders aren’t common occurrences. An particularly reactionary myth is the one that says those with a mental disorder are evil people.

There are many historical examples of controlling the lives of people that have been labelled ‘mentally ill’ but, from the point of view of current society, were simply making a stand against social standards they didn’t agree with. Many women were locked up in asylums if they held radical ideas such as a woman should be able to work outside the house (or in Elizabeth Packard’s case, disagreeing with her husband’s opinions, especially on religion). During the Soviet Union’s rise to Communism, many dissidents were labelled schizophrenic by doctors in order to silence their opposing views. Numerous stories are told about how the Chinese government has locked up their dissidents for their radical views, claiming that their mental illness was inhibiting their ability to think clearly.

British and American courts declare a person is insane if the murderer doesn’t understand that punishment will follow after a crime is committed. However, when legality isn’t in the equation, this doesn’t mean that a person doesn’t have morals if they have a mental disorder. For example, people with generalized anxiety disorder are more preoccupied about making sure they don’t mess up on their current task than robbing someone. The religious can also suffer from depression. It doesn’t make sense to say that those suffering from a physical ailment or impairment such as broken bones have a higher sense of morals than someone with a mental disorder.

Many more studies have confirmed similar results of people not getting the proper treatment they need to be able to cope with their mental illness. A pan–European study conducted in 2004 found that 13.9% of mood disorders (eg. Depression), 5.2% of alcohol dependence issues, and 13.6% of anxiety disorders (Eg. Obsessive compulsive disorders) could be found in one out of four people. No matter where one resides, mental disorders can strike at anyone at any time.

Many reasons underly this under-diagnosis. Two out of five people with a mental disorder will not try to get help, even when they are in dire need – perhaps due to a prevailing belief that mental illnesses aren’t as serious as physical ones. Besides the mental illness stigma that plagues many countries, doctors aren’t generally trained enough on psychiatric disorders. They focus more on biological aspects of health. Although there are some biological aspects to mental disorders, other factors need to be considered – like the environment that the patient is a part of. A patient with a phobia of dogs may have a history of being attacked by dogs, which is more of an environmental factor than biological.

With the many biological and environmental factors that can be triggered in to the eventual development of a disorder, no one has true immunity. Living with a mental disorder is not a shameful thing; the important thing is that the person doesn’t allow it to take complete control over their life to the point where everything revolves around the illness. Many who suffer from a mental illness don’t let their condition stop them from making an effort to fully live out their lives the way they want to. The singer Emilie Autumn still does her work, even though she is bipolar. Ben Stiller is another example of a successful person living with bipolar disorder.

Here is a list of other famous people (that is to say, people successful in their field, who’ve pushed themselves to achieve) who have battled with at least one mental illness in their lives:

Princess Diana –

Elizabeth Packard: Not mad. Just disagreed with her husband. And advocated the rights of women.