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Combating The Stigma Associated With Mental Illness

Updated on September 6, 2015

This Is Not The Face of Mental Illness

Norman Bates from Psycho
Norman Bates from Psycho

False Notions of What Mental Illness Is

Today we will be discussing mental illness and the unwarranted stigma associated with it. Most people get their Ideas about mental illness from the mass media. Some times from the news media, but mostly from fictional movies and tv shows. I would bet that when you hear the word mental illness, the first thing that comes to your head is the shower scene from psycho. Am I correct? If we get most of our ideas from entertainment, we see mental illness as something to fear, or something to laugh at. I once had the same outlook as most people. This ideology began to change when I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Being diagnosed with a mental disorder can be devastating, especially how it is stigmatized by the media and society. Society has come a long way in. The past 60 years as it applies to mental illness. Not to long ago people would lock away family members with mental illnesses in asylums, to avoid embarrassment. Today that is not the case, but many people who are mentally ill, feel ashamed of such diagnosis, as if they had any control in the development of their disorder.

The news Media and Political Figures Share Responsibility

The only time we hear mental illness discussed on the news or any public forum, is when there is a heinous crime committed, such as a mass shooting. So, of course people think that the mentally ill are dangerous. Although it is true that terrible crimes have been committed by the mentally ill, it pales in comparison to the amount committed by people with no history of mental illness. Why is it then, when some terrible crime is committed the first conclusion is that they are mentally ill, unless of course they are Muslims, in which case we assume they were motivated by their religion?

According to various studies, The mentally ill are more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violent crimes. We don't hear much on the news about mentally ill victims. Thats because there is nothing sensational about that. Nowadays the news is all about sensationalism and ratings. News is no longer about real journalism, it has become more of a variety show, more of a form of entertainment than an informative source of facts. It is more conductive to good ratings to demonize mental illness, than it is to report it according to facts. The media has no problem throwing the mentally ill community under the bus, as long as. It helps their ratings.

It is very difficult to go through life with a disorder that may cause you to be feared, ridiculed, or laughed at. This stigma is unfair and is not based on facts. How is acceptable to treat the mentally ill this way, and how is acceptable for our media and government officials to help spread misinformation, that adds to the hysteria of the general public? Another problem people with mental illness face, especially those are unable to work, is people not believing them, or not taking them serious. A lot of people only accept that someone is disabled, if they can physically see the disability, IE an amputated leg, or being wheelchair. In some people's mind's, unless the person has an extreme mental impairment, as in the case of mental retardation or autism, there's noting wrong with them. What's most preposterous part of this, is when people who have witnessed the symptoms of the disorder, over and over again have this attitude. Well I guess as long as I'm not missing half of my body, I should have no problem working 9 to 5.

Statistics on Mental Illness in America


What Is Mental illness and Who Suffers from it?

What exactly is mental illness? Mental Illness can be as simple as depression and anxiety, or as complex as Bi-polar and Schizophrenia. A majority of mental illnesses are caused by a chemical unbalance. Yet some are the result of extreme emotional trauma, like post traumatic stress disorder. Who suffers from mental Illness? According to a NewsWeek article published in 2014, 42.5 million adults in the United States suffer from some type of mental illness. That's nearly 1 in 5 Americans. There is no possibility that one in 5 Americans are violent time bombs waiting to go off, yet that is exactly the Image that the mainstream news, and quite a few politicians would have us believe.

There are quite a few politicians, even those who are avid supporters of the second amendment, are purposing laws that would ban the mentally ill from owning fire arms. So are they really suggesting that 42.9 million people should be denied a fire arm, should they be diagnosed with a mental illness? I myself, do not care for fire arms, but to deny so many people a right that most Americans enjoy simply be cause a very small minority are prone to violence , is a grave miscarry of Justice. Now of course if certain individuals, who have a history of violent behavior, who pose a great risk, probably shouldn't have a deadly weapon, but this should apply to violent people without mental illness as well. Violence is not strictly a mental health issue. It is violent behavior, not mental illness that should be scrutinized. Our leaders need to do a little research be fore they propose laws to discriminate against an an entire class of individuals, based on misinformation.

CDC statistics for mental illness in America
CDC statistics for mental illness in America | Source

Violent Crimes and The Mentally Ill.

Should the mentally ill be feared? I mentioned previously in this article that The entertainment industry and the news media are partly responsible for the misinformation about mental illness. I also mentioned how, even politicians have bought into it , and that we only hear about mental illness when a horrible crime is committed. But what do the facts say about the link between mental illness and violence? According to the American Psychological Association, A study of violent crimes committed by people with a serious mental illness, only 7.9 percent of those crimes were linked directly to their mental illness.

According to a statement made in 1994 by the American Psychological Association, The majority of violent people are not mentally ill. According to The MacArthur Violence Risk Assessment Study, A non-substance abusing mentally ill person, is no more likely than their non-substance abusing neighbor who is not mentally ill to be violent. this study also revealed a surprising fact that Schizophrenics are the least likely to commit a violent act then other mentally ill people, including those who merely suffer from depression. How could this be? If you pay attention to the news, you only hear schizophrenics mentioned in the same sentence as mass shooting. Could it be that the Stigma is incorrect, if not a full blown form of prejudice. We live in a day in age where it is no longer socially acceptable for people to be prejudiced on grounds of race, ethnicity or sexual preference, yet is is socially acceptable to be prejudiced based on someones mental stability. Also, according to this study, the mentally ill are more likely than those without mental illness to be victims of violence partially because of the negative stigma surrounding it.

In conclusion, the mentally ill are unfairly stigmatized. Those with mental illness less likely, not more likely to commit violent crimes than those with no mental illness. I believe it is up to the media and the leadership of this country to stop falsely linking mental illness to violence. Spresding such misinformation is harmful to the mentally ill community, and can actually encourage violence against the mentally ill. I challenge our politicians to pass measures to help the mentally ill, instead of trying to collectively punish us every time there is a mass shooting.


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