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Mental Illness Then and Now: stigma and shame

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Mental Illness Then and Now: stigma and shame

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Former US President Bill Clinton once said, “Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all.”

Nearing the late 1900’s, institutions like asylums and experimentation on the mentally ill became unacceptable in America. While our political climate seems to emphasize equality without judgment, those with mental illnesses still face oppression by underlying stigma.   

Prejudice and bias are social influences presented even in our world’s earliest civilizations. It’s nothing new for people to formulate negative views, which in turn become popular belief for lack of greater knowledge. Historic societies labeled individuals as “wild beasts” possessed by demonic spirits- then cast them away from society. This gave rise to stigma, which isolates certain groups of people by leading to discrimination, bullying, and a further divided society.  

An increasing 43 million US citizens experience some form of mental illness each year. Large percentages of our population face bipolar disorder, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorders, etc. This means our waiters, our entertainers, influencers, neighbors, and family members are at the front end of these obstacles or know someone who is. We are all interconnected in this way, yet separated by the negative presence of stigma.

A wide-scale stereotype often perceives mental illness in direct association with violence. This is fueled by social media posts and shows/movies with dramaticized “crazy” people acting out in extreme cases of aggression. As we hear about mass murders and violent crimes, news channels will often depict the perpetrator as mentally ill or unstable and give no further context as to what spectrum they were on.  

Various case studies have attempted to draw a correlation between mental illnesses and aggression, but most show substance abuse as the driving cause of violence instead. The unfortunate reality is those suffering from mental conditions have a greater chance of being victimized themselves rather than showing outward aggression toward others, and it often goes unreported.

With thoughts of these individuals being dangerous, there is also the belief that mental illness means incompetency. Some are viewed as lacking in capabilities which “normal” people have. This perspective is sometimes more disabling than the illnesses, and leads people to doubt their own abilities.

Forms of stigma can cause victims to feel a deep sense of shame, which may cause internalized self loathing, depression, and may elevate pre-existing conditions. Feelings of being unwanted or useless in a society prevent them from seeking treatment, and some believe it’s a sign of their own weakness. Shame holds a lot of people black from accepting treatment, which leads to worsening conditions and cycles of self-destruction.

Education is the best tool for us to combat the negative perception of mental illness. People may not even realize their own subconscious bias toward this population. Large scale educational programs in our workplaces, schools, and homes could help identify and eliminate prejudice in our society. With self-evaluation and education, we can continue to chip away at the seclusive barriers created by stigmas within our society.

Next, read about asylums and treatment of the mentally ill in previous societies: https://spartanoracle.com/22415/opinions/mental-illness-then-and-now-asylums/

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About the Writer
G. Lam, Reporter

Hey there! My name is G. Lam, and I’m currently in my sophomore year of high school. My interests include playing volleyball, writing (poetry, essays,...

2 Comments

2 Responses to “Mental Illness Then and Now: stigma and shame”

  1. Hope Davidson on March 5th, 2019 9:09 AM

    Great article Grace! You explained very well how stigmas are created and how they affect people; I love your work!

  2. Lauren Tittes on March 5th, 2019 9:25 AM

    Great article! Very well written in that you seem very educated on this subject, which is always nice to see. You were able to put out information that allows the reader to become more informed and even do more research on their own.

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