7 responses to “Mental Illness: Still Stigmatised! (I’m Shocked Too)”

  1. Jayn

    Just curious, but I don’t suppose you’ve been watching Mental? I thought the first season did a good job of showing the different issues involved, but I’d be interested in hearing the perspective of someone better versed in these things than I am.

  2. Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg

    Some time ago, I was reading the results of a study that said that the stigma of mental illness in the US had actually increased in proportion to people understanding its neurobiological origins. The problem is that, in the the popular mind, the understanding of mental illness as neurobiological tends to set people with mental illness apart, as “other,” with processes outside of the person’s control.

    The author contrasted attitudes about schizophrenia in the US with attitudes in Mexico, and found much more inclusion in Mexico. He found that family members of schizophrenics often called them “nervios,” nervous ones, which at first glance seems dismissive, but it was often in the context of “yes, I’ve been a nervio at times myself.” In other words, family members and, by extension, community members, saw schizophrenia as something akin to what they had felt at some time in their lives (though they themselves were not schizophrenic) and did not consign the person to the realm of scary other. I believe that this is what people popularly call “empathy.” :-)

  3. The Goldfish

    There are two other real issues with campaigns that focus on neurobiological aspects on mental ill health. The first is that in a society which is already loaded with ideas about people with mental ill health being dangerous, folk struggle to differentiate between “people cannot control or prevent the onset of schizophrenia” type messages and “people with schizophrenia cannot control their behaviour.”

    There was a major UK study on this earlier this year… sorry I can’t find it for you just now. I shall have a proper look later. But it found that the messages from such anti-stigma campaigns made people more sympathetic to people with severe mental ill health, but less comfortable being around them, working with them and so on.

    The other problem is that a lot of these campaigns, even by mental health charities who should know better, tend to focus on changing doubt and fear to *sympathy* rather than respect and acceptance. So there’s this whole “just like any other illness” vibe – but that’s about trying to squeeze people with mental ill health into a mold which is already a bad fit for people with chronic physical illness. To make all our stories tragic and harm-warming, but to keep us firmly “other”.

  4. Tera

    The other problem is that a lot of these campaigns, even by mental health charities who should know better, tend to focus on changing doubt and fear to *sympathy* rather than respect and acceptance.

    I recently read a book about schizophrenia, which was on the one hand awesome (it introduced me to lots of writers and activists who have/have had that diagnosis and say lots of cool things) and on the other hand terrible (I had to put up with the author, who is a doctor whose sister had schizophrenia).

    Not only was the dude all for forced medication/hospitalization (“people with schizophrenia aren’t violent…unless it boosts my argument”), and seemed to think that meds were Charlie the Magical Status Quo Unicorn, but was always going on about how we should end stigma. And then he would say things like “the mental health system is more thought-disordered than the people it’s trying to help.” Repeatedly. It did not occur to him that using mental illness as a shorthand for “does not make sense” or “ridiculous” is, in fact, stigma.

    What makes this even more amazing is that one of the awesome people this dude quoted from, Dr. Frederick Frese, has pointed this out:

    “Since the time when we were very young we have all been conditioned to accept that if something is crazy or insane, its worth to us is automatically dismissed. We live in a world that is held together by rational connections. That which is logical or reasonable is acceptable. That which is not reasonable is not acceptable.”

    Oh–and the dude is always talking about people “suffering from” schizophrenia (I would really like anyone who’s talking about someone else to treat this word like a bomb that’s about to go off in 30 seconds–don’t mess with it unless you are MacGuyver), and says at least once that we need to speak for schizophrenics because they can’t speak for themselves.

    The whole book reinforced this dynamic of: “People with mental illness need our understanding and sympathy, and need us to take care of them, and and if they disagree with us, they are irresponsible consumers.”

  5. Kelly

    Thanks for this article; I’m sharing it around today.

  6. KJ

    Tera- I read that book. It was annoying.

    One thing I do think needs to be addressed when anyone talks about stigma is the way that different mental illness carry different kinds of stigma. Addictions carry a certain kind of stigma, which is dramatically different from the stigma of depression or schizophrenia. I wish I had time to go into details, but I fear it would be a monster-sized post if I did. I’m in grad school to become a therapist now and next semester I am taking psychopathology. I will be very curious how each disorder is addressed as we go through the DSM (our textbook). When I took the class in undergrad, it was so clear which patients other students might fear, which they pitied and which they hated. As someone with some of the disorders, it was eye-opening and frightening. If this theme reoccurs, it will be even more frightening, as everyone in my grad school is going to be a mental health professional.

  7. Sigrun