The Stigma of Mental Health
How We Treat Mental Illness
Over recent years, mental health has gotten more and more attention. Whether it be through the media, politicians, support groups, or even health professionals themselves, it's clear that the majority of American society has begun to accept mental health as a part of themselves.
But despite this progress, mental health also continues to be controversial. In fact, it's been the subject of a variety of debates; from the plethora of pharmaceutical companies gaining attention from prescribing medications that patients may not even need, to the harsh reality that many professionals are willing to take advantage of those suffering from these very illnesses. However, none is more devastating than the stigma surrounding mental health.
This stigma has had a large impact on American society. According to an article published on Huffington post, only 25% of Americans feel that others understand their condition. The article even refers to the stigma as "discrimination." Even so, what contributes to the stigma?
Humanity has had a very complex relationship with religion. While studies have shown that religion can be good for mental health, it's also infamous for its treatment of the mentally ill. For example, while many people stricken with HIV/AIDS often have a better quality of life because of their beliefs, others have suffered more so because they believed that it was their punishment from God. In fact, some people have even gone on to try and use spiritual remedies to cure themselves of their afflictions. According to Vox, one man had tried using these cures to help him, and when they didn't work and was prescribed medication, he'd often hide those pills out of fear that other people may find out.
But the story goes so much deeper than that. Throughout history, demonizing those suffering from mental illness has played a significant role in Judeo-Christian beliefs. Even in churches today, there's a stigma against mental illness, simply because sermons and teachings have often emphasized the soul, rather than the body. Pam Rocker, who works for the Hillhurst United Church in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, has stated that mental health "is often erroneously intertwined with weakness or lack of willpower."
But it's not just Christians. In Islam, many communities believe that those who have mental illness was are often tested by Allah, or that they've been given a chance to rectify their disconnection. In many different Pagan groups, people are often notorious about refusing to take medications that could potentially help them. In Trinidad and Tobago, despite the many diverse religions living in the area, these individuals often don't receive treatment or proper medical care. This is because many of these individuals were trained to believe that mental illness doesn't exist, that these problems are, in fact, caused by supernatural problems such as demonic possession.
One the main social institutions that have contributed to mental health stigma is the media. Whether it be news outlets, blogs, or social networking sites, the media can be considered a reflection of how America views the world, right or wrong. While the media is a good way to call to attention mental health issues, it can also be used to promote horrific views that may paint mental health in a more horrific light.
Take Facebook for example. There have been many support groups that help encourage the discussion of mental health, as well as promote a comforting environment for those who need it. Even so, there are also groups where people degrade those who suffer from mental illness, ranging from the obvious, irritating statement that mental illness doesn't exist, to berating people who claim that they have such conditions. If someone doesn't agree with their way of thinking, they'd accuse those individuals of being mentally ill has well.
This has also been seen in news outlets such as CNN. In fact, one of the only times that mental health is spoken of is when terrible tragedies, such as school shootings, have already occurred. Either that, or when politicized issues, such as healthcare bills and gun control rights arise. Even terrorist attacks are often the subject of mental health debates. It's strange, to think that mental health can only be discussed on major TV outlets in the context of violence.
This, unfortunately, has led to the stereotyping of those suffering from mental illness. The television show Wonderland, was criticized for its portrayal of mentally ill individuals as people who suffer from hopelessness. In an article published by The Independent, many movies have furthered these stereotypes, sometimes tamely, other times in a much more gruesome way. From Friday the 13th, to old movies such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Equus, these movies have added to the foundation that mental illness can only be spoken about in terms of violence or hopelessness.
Culture and Ethnicity
But religion and the media aren't the only culprits. Culture, as well as ethnicity has had a hand at nourishing some of the most horrific stigma surrounding mental health. From racism, to prejudice, to the degradation of minority groups themselves, it's clear that these factors have added to the negative attitudes concerning mental health.
Even so, while its clear that many of these groups contribute to mental illness, it's debatable as to how much they do cause them. For example, some Native Americans don't stigmatize against mental health, while others shy away from anything having to do with it. Likewise, in many Asian cultures, mental illnesses is often seen as a source of shame, because conformity is valued more so than individualism. As such, any individuals who stray from the norm are considered outcasts, abnormalities. Many African Americans view mental illness as a weakness, and that they'd rather deal with their problems themselves, while Latinos view mental illness as damaging to their social status. In Western culture, while many people discuss mental illness out in the open, there are also many institutions who would discriminate subtly against the individual, simply because they are perceived as a threat.
Not only this, but the stigma even carries on even in the healthcare system. It's true that there are many healthcare disparities regarding mental health, not only because of differing cultures, but also because of race. According to a study published in the National Institutes of Health, ethnic minorities and those who are impoverished are less likely to access mental health services than whites. Even when they can access this care, they are more likely to have poorer quality of service. This could be due to a more subtle discrimination known as "provider discrimination." It could also be due to the lack of insurance, as well as the difficulty of overcoming prevailing previous assumptions and cultural barriers.
Mental illness is an important part of our wellbeing. Not only does it help us cope with the harshness of life, but it also reflects how we think about the world, and how we deal with our emotions. It also has a big impact on our physical health; for instance, it can determine what illnesses we're susceptible to, and whether or not we accept medical treatments.
But despite its importance, there's a stigma surrounding mental health. Whether it be from religion, culture, ethnicity, the media or otherwise, many people reject the notion about talking about mental illness, an unhealthy stigma that may cause us more harm than good. Even so, this is beginning to change. More people are starting to talk more about mental health, as well as educate others about the conditions. It's because of this that this stigma is fading.