Why We Don't Take Mental Disorders Seriously

Updated on August 8, 2017

Outside of more extreme illnesses like schizophrenia, mental illness isn't always taken seriously. Why is this? Possibly because they aren't concrete illnesses. We understand physical illnesses because we all get them. Even if someone has never had cancer or kidney failure, we know from getting colds and intestinal illnesses that physical sickness is a real thing. Most people don't suffer from mental illnesses or don't realize they do. About 4% of Americans suffer from bipolar disorder, 10% from depression, 8% from self harm, 8% from ADHD, and 5% from eating disorders. Since it's an experience most of us won't have, it's easy to be dismissive. If things go wrong with our physical bodies, why do we have such a hard time understanding that things can go wrong with our minds? After all, our brains are a physical part of our body, so it makes sense that things will go wrong with such a complex organ.

Simulated Schizophrenia

Reasons Mental Illnesses Aren't Taken Seriously

Anyone can be diagnosed with a mental illness, right? I often come across the suggestion that anyone who goes to a psychiatrist would be diagnosed with some kind of disorder. People who make this claim never back it up with any evidence. It's more of an assumption. However, among the most troubled members of our society, those in prison, half will receive a diagnosis of mental illness. In many cases, their illness is worsened by drug use or caused by it. Members of the US military undergo lots of stresses including combat and long separations from their families but even here diagnosis rates are about 25%. Obviously rates of diagnosis would be lower among the general population. So, no, not everyone would be diagnosed with a mental disorder.

I think we also want to hold people accountable for their actions, so we're reluctant to give them excuses. When people do terrible things, we're angry with them and want them to pay. We want to believe they must have known what they did was wrong. We find it hard to accept that there are people who really are not in control of their behavior. It goes against the idea of free will that explains good and evil in religions and is the basis for our justice systems.

When it comes to eating disorders, people are horrified at the idea of someone who has access to plenty of food not eating it when people are starving around the world. It seems selfish and stupid. This question asked on Yahoo! Answers assumes these disorders are the result of privilege.

"Why does anorexia only seem to affect spoiled, rich, Western girls? You never hear of starving girls in the Indian slums getting anorexia? Or the poor Africans in ghetto's don't seem to be afflicted by this disorder? Why is this? It seems logical to say this "disease" only ever affects white girls with too much time on their hands to sit around feeling sorry for themselves! Where are the statistics of anorexia sufferers in Third World Countries?!"

There actually are anorexics and bulimics in third world countries. Males and females of all races, ages and social classes suffer from these disorders. Anorexia is the most deadly of all mental illnesses, killing about 1 in 5 sufferers within 20 years of onset. According to the Huffington Post article National Eating Disorders Awareness Week: Get in the Know:

"...eating disorders look much like our population, affecting every socio-economic demographic -- young/old, female/male, wealthy/poor, heterosexual/gay, Christian/Jewish, African-American, Hispanic, Asian and, yes, Caucasian. The rate of occurrence is also particularly high among college students, athletes and gay men. There may be challenges that are unique to each demographic -- men and African-American women are less inclined to seek help, for example -- but bottom line is that an eating disorder is a life-threatening illness no matter who you are."

Self harm, social anxiety, depression and any other problem we might associate with privileged people in the west who supposedly have too much time to sit around and feel sorry for themselves can also be found in the slums of India and Africa. These disorders are reactions to suffering and stress that affect all nations and social classes.

Some people also believe mental illnesses are over-diagnosed by drug companies and health professionals out to enrich themselves. They'll point to lower levels of diagnoses in poor countries where people would be expected to have more stresses. This ignores the possibility that mental illnesses are seriously under-diagnosed in poor countries. Approximately 75% of Americans and Europeans who suffer from a mental disorder will never seek treatment, so under-diagnosis is also a serious problem in first world countries. And perceptions that the problem is the sufferer's fault, all in their head or a weakness may prevent many people from seeking help.

Many Americans Know Little about Mental Illnesses

Almost half the public - 44 percent - report knowing only a little or almost nothing at all about mental illnesses. But asked whether they would benefit from knowing more about the warning signs of mental illness, 84 percent said yes....one-third of Americans mistakenly think that emotional or personal weakness is a major cause of mental illnesses and almost as many think old age is a major cause. In fact, research shows the causes of mental illnesses are genetic and environmental factors, traumatic events, and other physical illnesses and injuries that have psychiatric side effects.

National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI)

Genetics and Mental Disorders

Many mental disorders like Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, eating disorders, autism spectrum disorders and Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are being increasingly linked to genetics. A genetic predisposition to develop mental illnesses seems to run in families.

"Five major mental illnesses depression, bipolar disorder, ADHD,schizophrenia and autism — are traceable to the same inherited genetic variations, according to the largest genome-wide study of its kind. These variations account for 17-28 percent of mental illness risk."
-- 5 Major Mental Illnesses Traced to Same Genetic Variations, psychcentral.com

"The genetic research seems to indicate that some people -- mostly, though not all, female -- may have a latent vulnerability to eating disorders, which might never be "turned on" if they weren't exposed to particular influences, just as a predisposition to alcoholism can remain latent unless the person takes a drink. Since in our culture today, dieting behaviors are more intense, it's exposing that latent vulnerability more now than in previous generations."
-- Anorexia and Bulimia: Cracking the Genetic Code, webmd.com

So, many of us may be prone to mental illnesses but we will only develop them if a trigger of some kind turns them on, such as weight bullying, an abusive childhood or becoming a crime victim. Many people with mental issues are afraid to admit they have a problem and seek help out of fear of being accused of being weak or looking for excuses for their troubled behavior. Perhaps, increased understanding of the physical and genetic causes of mental illness will reduce the stigma and guilt and encourage more people to seek out help.


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    • profile image

      Yamuna Hrodvitnir 

      2 years ago

      Thank you for talking about this. I suffer from PTSD caused by domestic violence, and I hate to say that it seems like although people know, and I try to be open about it and talk about it when I can, people really just don't recognize the reality of it.

      In an article that I just recently wrote (which thankfully led me to your article!) I mention in brief the same point that you made. About how people can sometimes lose control of themselves, and how people demonize them for it, and refuse to accept that it was a lapse of sanity. That can seriously exacerbate or perpetuate mental illness issues. I believe that a large factor in suicide among the mental ill is the feeling of loneliness that comes from everyone abandoning them for things that never meant to do.

    • profile image


      2 years ago

      Thank you so much for posting this i have mental/emotional problems and no one really seems to care so again thanks.

    • Learn Things Web profile imageAUTHOR

      Learn Things Web 

      6 years ago from California

      Thanks carter06.

    • carter06 profile image


      6 years ago from Cronulla NSW

      Good on you Learn Things Web for bringing this issue to attention..it's so important to make people aware that it's detrimental not only to the sufferer and their family/carers, but their community and society at large if mental illness is not taken seriously..will share this..cheers

    • Learn Things Web profile imageAUTHOR

      Learn Things Web 

      6 years ago from California

      YoungIlluminati, I'll check them out.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Its heartbreaking and insulting,for people to judge and insult you,based on their preconcieved notions,of what Ocd,or other mental illnesses are.Ty for your understanding,and pls check out my hubs that I will post(don`t know if I can say that in the comment section,self promotion :-).....Have lots, to learn about Hub publishing,but I like writing,so I don`t think it will be that hard ;-)

    • Learn Things Web profile imageAUTHOR

      Learn Things Web 

      6 years ago from California


      I think it's definitely true that people who experience mental illness and their loved ones will have a much greater understanding of what it's like. Someone who doesn't experience it in any way understandably will have less knowledge. But people who are completely dismissive of mental illness and either blame it on the sufferer or think of it as some kind of weakness are being ignorant, which does lead to a lot of stigma against sufferers.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I have OCD. I also have issues with depression,anxiety,possible PTSD, and I have some clear borderline features(i doubt its full fledged BPD)

      Its easier for me,to understand mental health issues,and I believe that my perspective on certain issues regarding mental health,are fairly rare,and that may be an advantage of having mental health issues yourself

      :-).....Still,the stigma of mental health,especially in more......I don`t want to sound to harsh,but can`t really find a better word ``Ignorant`` countries is very prevailent and many ``proffesionals``from here still work with outdated belief systems.

      That`s a shame but I am sure things will get better.....My OCD is more a contamination kind,for example being afraid of germs,of illness but that is not all :-) :-(........Checking the doors to see if they are closed, being afraid of what people may say,of what people imagine my condition is,being seen as crazy :-).....On the sidenote-Most people have issues,they just aren`t open enough about it.....Some people with OCD,may have issues with harming others,or weird sexual fantasies,but most will never act on their ideas,and this is a real STIGMA,for people with Ocd.....I for example have an obsession know that people may see me as a sexual deviant,wanting to hurt others....I don`t even have the type of harm OCD,with weird sexual fantasies,or fear of harming other(the innocent,or the helpless)...But only the ideea that people may believe that, is embarrassing,is scary and frightening.

      Please judge people as Individuals,and don`put them all in one bascket ;-)

    • Learn Things Web profile imageAUTHOR

      Learn Things Web 

      6 years ago from California


      That's interesting. I want to look into the DSM a little and get a better understanding of it.


      I actually find it stunning that there are people who think these disorders don't exist in poor countries. But that's the problem when people think of mental illness as some kind of personal weakness rather than a physical problem.

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 

      6 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      I'm glad you brought out the fact that less people are diagnosed with mental illnesses in poorer countries due to the lack of services, and the high incidence of stigma. We do not realize that people everywhere can have these issues. I have family members who have never been traumatized or affected by drug and alcohol use, but suffer from mental health issues. We cannot judge another, no matter what background they have, when mental illness is present. Just like physical illness, they can be caused by so many things.

    • connieow profile image

      Connie S Owens 

      6 years ago from El Cajon, CA

      The class I took about the DSM including a detailed reading of many of the different mental illnesses. The first thing they tell you is that we can find a piece of ourselves in every description. Reading through the different ones I could find a bit of me in each one. I have a diagnosis, I am not that diagnosis. But when I share with someone, in hopes of educating them, I become my diagnosis. The well meaning phrases or lack of, bother me. Less as I recover.

      Sometimes they would rather stick their head in the sand that know there is a problem. The forgotten answer remains.

    • Learn Things Web profile imageAUTHOR

      Learn Things Web 

      6 years ago from California


      It's believed autism is caused by a combination of both genetic and environmental factors, which makes it difficult to pinpoint an exact cause. But hopefully a test of some kind can be developed at some point.


      Another problem is that many mentally ill people are in denial or reluctant to seek help making it lifelong for that reason as well.

    • msviolets profile image


      6 years ago

      Another problem with mental illness is that there are no clear cut answers. People want any condition to have a cure. With MI there are only treatment plans. They can be ongoing. Certain conditions can become a lifelong struggle even with the support of family, friends and medical professionals. That's something that the general public can't understand without dealing with it.

    • jenza20 profile image

      Jennifer Moore 

      6 years ago from UK

      This is a great hub, thank you. I too am from a family with a strong genetic link to Autism and I hope one day this can be proved. I was offered genetic counselling but as there is still no concrete evidence or testing to prove a genetic link, it felt pointless. Hopefully by the time my 3 sons are older, the genetic link may be more recognised. Thanks again for a really interesting hub. Jenny

    • Learn Things Web profile imageAUTHOR

      Learn Things Web 

      6 years ago from California


      People are under too much pressure but asking for help is treated as a sign of weakness, which is very unfortunate.


      There's a lot of mental illness in my family as well, so there clearly is a genetic link. And like in your situation, it's different types like anxiety, bipolar, paranoia, depression, and autism.

    • brutishspoon profile image


      6 years ago from Darlington, England

      I agree with the genetic link as I am one of at least 3 people in my family with a mental disorder and that is not counting the two that were born mentally handicapped which is something that has hit two generations.

      There is me with borderline BiPolar, anger issues and Anxiety problems, a cousin with Anxiety problems including having panic attacks and a second cousin who has had a break down or major depressive episode as they now refer to them.

    • profile image

      Colin Neville 

      6 years ago

      Work-related stress is a big cause of mental illness, particularly depression. Increasingly, people are having to do their own and other people's work, as cuts whittle away at the workforce. People's lives are often a House of Cards balanced together in a financially precariously way. If unemployment or redundancy strikes, the House can collapse under the weight of debt. People under pressure at work are often very loath to admit to emotional illness problems for fear of losing their jobs or being deemed inadequate by their colleagues and managers.


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