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The Stigma Against People with Mental Illness and the Mind-Body Connection

Updated on May 3, 2015

Do You "Blame the Victim" for Having a Mental Illness?

Is she to blame for having mental illness, or are we just blaming the victim?
Is she to blame for having mental illness, or are we just blaming the victim?


  • The Mind IS Part of the Body, and Vice Versa: Why Treat It Differently?
  • What IS Mental Illness Exactly?
  • Risk Factors for Getting a Mental Illness
  • Mental Illnesses CAN be Measured Scientifically
  • "Behavioral Health": the Great Insult to People with Mental Illness
  • The Prevalence of Mental Illness
  • About the Stigma: It Affects Almost Everyone
  • Overcoming the Stigma Against People with Mental Illness by "Coming Out of the Closet"
  • More Information About Mental Illness and the Stigma Against People with it
  • Famous People with Mental Illness
  • Removing Mental Illness Stigma (video)
  • Children are Rarely Identified or Treated for Mental Illness
  • Comments from Readers

The Mind IS Part of the Body, and Vice Versa: Why Treat It Differently?

I think the stigma associated with mental illness primarily comes from fear of the person with mental illness, fear of getting a mental illness, and/or ignorance or denial that the mind is part of the body and vice versa. If there were no ignorance and stigma, then why would insurance companies and laws treat mental illnesses and people with it differently than any other illness? For example, most insurance cards have separate telephone numbers to call for mental illness-related issues than for all other illnesses.

What IS Mental Illness, Exactly?

The definition of mental illness: “Mental illness refers to a wide range of mental health conditions — disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behavior. Examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders and addictive behaviors.” Definition By Mayo Clinic staff, on 03/14/13.

Risk Factors for Getting a Mental Illness

The following broad list of things increase your risk of developing a mental illness. This list makes the stigma against mental illness all the more puzzling:

  • “Having a biological (blood) relative, such as a parent or sibling, with a mental illness
  • Experiences in the womb — for example, having a mother who was exposed to viruses, toxins, drugs or alcohol during pregnancy
  • Experiencing stressful life situations, such as financial problems, a loved one's death or a divorce
  • Having a chronic medical condition, such as cancer
  • Experiencing brain damage as a result of a serious injury (traumatic brain injury), such as a violent blow to the head
  • Having traumatic experiences, such as military combat or being assaulted
  • Use of illegal drugs
  • Being abused or neglected as a child
  • Having few friends or few healthy relationships
  • Having a previous mental illness”

excerpt from “Risk Factors”, by Mayo Clinic Staff, on 03/14/13

Before reading this article did you know that mental illnesses could be measured scientifically just like other diseases can?

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Mental Illnesses CAN be Measured Scientifically

People, including many doctors, are generally under the mistaken impression that mental illnesses can't be measured or viewed using concrete "old fashioned" medical tests. However, with the inventions of the EKG and MRI and PET scanners, as well as blood and genetic tests, these mental illnesses can readily be "seen" and "measured" as easily as other serious illnesses. Cost is the only reason one wouldn't bother with such tests: accurate diagnoses can typically be done in the clinic by observation and questioning.

Stigma Occurs Throughout the Spectrum of Mental Illness
Stigma Occurs Throughout the Spectrum of Mental Illness | Source

"Behavioral Health": the Great Insult to People with Mental Illness

I particularly hate the phrase "behavioral health" because it makes it sound like the person with a mental illness can just change their behavior--try harder--and their mental illness will be cured. This is a "blame the victim" for being lazy way of looking at it--one of the most common stigmas against mental illness. Hearing this makes mental illness victims feel worse, since stigma is telling them the same thing, even though most of the medical community has known better for years.

What About You?

Have you ever had a mental illness, or do you have one now? (Addiction to substances like alcohol are mental illnesses)

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The Prevalence of Mental Illness

I recently read that 20% of people will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. In the past I've read that 20%—that’s 1 out of every 5—people experience clinical depression each year. The Mayo Clinic says:

“Mental illness is common. About 1 in 4 adults has a mental illness in any given year. About half of U.S. adults will develop a mental illness sometime in their lives. Mental illness can begin at any age, from childhood through later adult years.”

Risk factors By Mayo Clinic staff. on 03/14/13

Who Do You Know?

Who do you know with mental illness?

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About the Stigma: Mental Illness Stigma Affects Almost Everyone

I think the stigma is ludicrous, of course, since most people are directly affected or indirectly touched by mental illness. We need a strong celebrity spokesperson to pick up the cause of ending mental illness and raising awareness for it, a straightforward phrase similar to, "Race for the Cure," and a symbol like the pink ribbon for breast cancer that people can latch on to. We need more famous people to come forward and a lot more money invested in publicizing that mental illness is rampant in our society and nothing to be ashamed of, plus money and events to raise funds toward cures. The first one to tackle, in my opinion, would be depression since it affects the most people and has a far greater incidence of occurrence than other mental illnesses.

Are You Out of the Closet About Mental Illness?

Are you out of the closet?

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Overcoming the Stigma Against People with Mental Illness by "Coming Out of the Closet"

The way to overcome the stigma is also to "come out of the closet" as you have done and hold frank discussions about it, such as you have triggered. THANK YOU for raising this issue and, since mental illness touches virtually everyone (directly or indirectly) at some point in their lives, I wish all people reading this the very best. It's no longer time to hide the "crazy old aunt" in the secret attic bedroom, it's time to shout it from the rooftops and demand treatments and actual CURES for mental illnesses.

Famous People with Mental Illness

Numerous famous people are known to have suffered from mental illness, including but by no means limited to, the following list, which was prepared by the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI):

  • Lionel Aldridge
  • Ludwig van Beethoven
  • Winston Churchill
  • Charles Dickens
  • Gaetano Donizetti
  • Patty Duke
  • Ernest Hemingway
  • John Keats
  • Vivien Leigh
  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Michelangelo
  • Isaac Newton
  • Vaslov Nijinsky
  • Eugene O’Neill
  • Jimmy Piersall
  • Sylvia Plath
  • Robert Schumann
  • Leo Tolstoy
  • Vincent Van Gogh
  • Tennessee Williams
  • Virginia Woolf

From on 3/14/13

More Information About Mental Illness and the Stigma Against People with it:

Removing Mental Illness Stigma

Children Are Rarely Identified or Treated for Mental Illness

“Despite well-documented levels of emotional and behavioral concerns in the nation's youth, studies have repeatedly shown that up to 75 percent of youth with mental health disorders such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, anxiety, and eating disorders are usually not identified, and youth do not receive the care they need.”

Excerpt from “Mayo Clinic Partners with Advocacy Organizations to Create Tools to Help Recognize Youth Mental Health Disorders Action Signs tool kit will help parents and educators easily identify signs of youth mental health disorders” on 03/14/13

Comments from Readers

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    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 

      2 years ago from Philippines

      what an excellent idea to write about the stigma of mental illness. Ignorance leads to fear, and if you don't know what it is, you don't treat it. This is something everyone should read, and I'm recommending it to all my readers.

    • Laura Schneider profile imageAUTHOR

      Laura Schneider 

      4 years ago from Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, USA

      You bring up very good points! And, someone with a mental illness couldn't call in sick because of it, they would be forced to make up something due to the stigma of being "outed" with a mental illness at work. Many pitfalls in the workplace... Thanks for commenting!

    • met2014 profile image


      4 years ago

      Do you think that part of the reason mental illness is stigmatized is because as a society, people do not understand how to respond in a workplace to it? We know how to respond to flu, colds, pink eye, bruises, and for injuries or sudden onset of symptoms of a heart attack or choking, how to apply basic first aid or call for help. But what would we do equivalently with a co-worker who showed signs of mental illness - would we even notice what the symptoms were, and what would be a step to help?

    • profile image

      Colin Neville 

      4 years ago

      Unemployment and family breakdown is contributing to a significant increase in mental health disorders among young people in Britain. The proportion of 15/16 year olds reporting that they frequently feel anxious or depressed has doubled in the last 30 years, from 1 in 30 (in the 1970s) to 2 in 30 for boys 2012) and 1 in 10 (1970s) to 2 in ten for girls (2012). At the same time, state funded psychiatric treatment has suffered financial cuts in the last 4 years, so good therapeutic/counselling-related treatment is often not that easy to obtain here. A good society is one that actively cares for its citizens with mental health disorders.

    • Laura Schneider profile imageAUTHOR

      Laura Schneider 

      5 years ago from Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, USA

      stanwshura, thank you so much for all of your praise! I am so glad that you "enjoyed" this article! It's so encouraging to know that people out there appreciate the things I write and learn or just plain resonate with what I've written. However, I've NEVER received more positive feedback on anything I've ever written! Thank you for inspiring me to continue to write articles in general and difficult ones such as this. Your words will ring joyfully in my ears for a very, very long time, if not forever. Thank you!

    • stanwshura profile image


      5 years ago

      You did such a fabulous - no - *scholarly* job with this hub! Very organized, comprehensive and wholly readable piece. And *DAMN* do I EVER agree with you that "behavioral health" is an insulting, misleading, ignorant and counter-productive label and classification. You hit that one outta the park! Congratulations on this hub, Laura.


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