Home Social Issues The Social Stigma Around Mental Illness

The Social Stigma Around Mental Illness

The social stigma around mental illnesses makes it hard for people to reach out

As if the constant anxiety destroying your day out with your best friends isn’t enough, for some reason, your neighbor thinks her life depends on judging how you dress. But that’s just the start of it! Got depression? Well you can count on your parents telling you you need to step outside, make more friends, and stop being lazy. 

And maybe they say it out of the goodness of their heart. Or maybe they say it because they can’t believe their kid is suffering because of their shortcomings. 

If boomers got a cent for every time they judged a young person with mental health issues, there would be more Jeff Bezos and less of us struggling to balance finances with our deteriorating mental health. 

Yet here we are, with our mental health buried sixty feet deep below the dirt and our bodies floating in mid-air trying to deal with people who say, It’s all in your head. Yeah, that’s why it’s called metal health! 

In the words of Glenn Close, “What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candor, and more unashamed conversations.” So, ready to make a difference in the world? Then it’s time to talk about the awful stigma and demonizing of mental illnesses born by the courtesy of yours truly, family members and society

What Do You Mean By ‘Social Stigma Around Mental Illness’

In order to overcome something it is essential we break down the basics and ensure everyone knows what they mean. So, before we start talking about how the stigma around mental health makes everything 1000x times harder, let’s make sure we all know what it even means. 

Social stigma, otherwise known as public stigma, is when society regards individuals is  to negative stereotypes. It is typically on the basis of certain characteristics or attributes of the person. In turn, the person treats (psst. it’s bullying) you in a negative manner. In simple words, they’re being discriminatory.  

An easy example of this is, ‘Auden is schizophrenic,” instead of ‘Auden is a person dealing with schizophrenia.’ While it may feel subtle in daily conversation, the former often means that ‘his mental illness is a defining, and thus negative, characteristic’. On the other hand, the latter understands that mental illness is a part of him, but not something that defines him as a person.

This, more often than not, leads to making it harder for said person to recover and may even be a reason for their avoidance for seeking help. 

Why Does This Happen?

While I would love to say it’s because ‘people suck!!!,’ a lot of times it’s because people are both uneducated and have negative attitudes. To step into the shoes of these people, let’s talk about the dimensions of stigma. 

 Jones and colleagues did some research on Goffman’s initial conceptualization and identified the six essential dimensions corresponding to stigma. These are concealability, course, disruptiveness, peril, origin, and aesthetics. While this is true, another study by Corrigan and colleagues identified three dimensions that are: stability, controllability, and pity. 

I know, I know, I’m confusing you! But don’t worry, I’m going to explain all of this in simple words below. Keep reading!

Understanding The Dimensions

Peril And Aesthetic

The first dimension, peril is often considered an essential aspect in the development of stigma. The public often sees those with mental disorders as frightening, unpredictable, and strange. These attributes lead to fear and discomfort in said person. These social cues can be made evident due to certain psychiatric symptoms, different physical appearances, and social-skills. This leads us to aesthetics.

Society loves to create a box where only certain behavior is acceptable. That’s where the ‘displeasing nature’ of mental illness steps outside of the box, thus leading people to link mental illness with abnormal behavior. This means labelling, stereotyping, discrimination, and straight up avoiding people with mental disorders.  

All Of The Others 

Next we loop the dimension ‘origin’ in. Often people believe that mental and behavioral disorders develop from biological and genetic factors. This leads us to the other dimension of controllability. How? Well, the general public firmly believes in the fact that mental disorders are totally personally controllable. So if someone is unable to get better on their own, they lack personal effort and are lazy. Thus, their condition is their own fault and problem.

Moving on, it was found through research that pity leads to less stigmatization of a disorder or illness. If society believes a disorder is somewhat out of the hand of the person, they may have more sympathy for that person. Another dimension that corresponds with controllability is concealability.  

For example: if something is easily identifiable about a person, stigmatization around it may be greater. This is easily supported by various researches that show societies demonization of disorders like schizophrenia, bi-polar etc., where symptoms are more visible

Course, Stability And Disruptiveness 

Last but not least, course, stability, and disruptiveness also contain certain similarities. Here course and stability refer to how likely a person is to recover with the help of treatment. Whereas, the last refers to how much said mental disorder impacts your personal relationships and success in society. Here both stability and disruptiveness refer to whether the person can perform well in a workplace and in relationships, thus if a disorder is less disruptive, it is stable, and less stigmatized. 

However, it is important to remember that, in a person and/or society, these dimensions can be codependent or independent in creating a stigma.

Making It Simple

I know some of you might have read that and gone, ‘wha? I’m still lowkey confused’ Worry not, I’ve further simplified it down below!

Results of an in-depth survey showed that a lot of people identified people with mental illness as:

  1. Someone who should be feared. This fear leading to the exclusion of said person
  2. People with mental illness are irresponsible and lazy, therefore, others should be making life decisions for them
  3. Those with mental illness have childlike perceptions, thus they need to be taken care of

Thus why we see that disorders like schizophrenia and dissociative identity disorder (DID) are more likely to be victims of violence rather than being violent. On the other hand, those with eating disorders, anxiety, and addictions are blamed for their disorders. 

We’ve got both ends of the mental disorder spectrum covered and either is associated with different dimensions (not inherently, of course). As a matter of fact, research showed that those with mental illness are more pitied, whereas, psychiatric disabilities are associated with anger and the belief that help is not deserved. 

What’s worse is how the media often contributes to these stereotypes. Those media analyses of film and print have mostly agreed with the above three points: that people with mental illness are homicidal maniacs (seriously haven’t you seen split? And Ishq Zeh Naseeb? The latter was awfully misleading and based on false facts), that they are childish, and of weak character. 

What Are The Repercussions of Stigmatizing Mental Illness?

A study by the World Health Organization (WHO)  insinuated that about 25% of all people have either mental or behavioral disorders at some point in their life. 

Despite this substantial number ( those are like 1,950,000,000 people) it doesn’t stop people from being discriminatory. A lot of times this has a devastating effect on the person. These include:

  • Hesitating when it comes to seeking out help and/or treatment
  •  Having fewer opportunities when it comes to jobs, school, and social activities
  • They might look up to drugs and alcohol as a release. This may lead to suicide as well.
  • Bullying, physical and verbal harassment, violence, and further emotional exploitation
  •  Holding the belief that you will never be able to do certain things, overcome certain challenges, or improve your situation

How Do I Fight My Battle With the Stigma Surrounding Mental Illness

Another in-depth study carried out by WHO evaluated that about 450 million people have a mental or behavioral disorder. But with the double amount of people stereotyping our mental illnesses it can be easy to see the lines between what’s true and what’s not as blurred. That’s why we’ve added a number of ways you can cope with the stigma:

You are More Than your Mental Illness

No need to equate yourself to the illness. Just like people with a broken bone aren’t described by it, the same goes for you.

Be like Auden! 

I know, ‘who’s Auden?’ Let me explain! Say ‘I have schizophrenia’ instead of ‘I’m schizophrenic.’ If you accept yourself as more than your mental illness, so will others.

Don’t Let The Stigma Create Shame, You are Strong for Fighting Against the Stigma! 

More often than not, those who stereotype are uneducated or those who have no experience of said mental illness. Here consider it as their problem and try to use facts and figures to educate them.

Don’t Isolate

While having mental illness may make it hard for you to reach out, do reach out to those you trust. It helps a lot.

Choose Your Own Battles

There’s no need to spend the better half of your day questioning the mental capacity of someone you talked very respectfully with on Insta. Some people will be open and understanding, others not so much. No need to waste your time, move on!

Tell Your Story, Join a Group

It’s always empowering to tell people your story (only do it if you’re comfy with it). Moreover, you can join support groups that help educate people through programs and internet resources.

Reduce the Stigma About Mental Illness! 

Point out where people are being insensitive and when you do it for someone or yourself. Be sure to call out the media for it as well. Speaking against the stigma helps the stigma go down. If not that, it can help others with similar experiences gain courage to speak up as well.

Get the Treatment and Support you Deserve! 

Don’t let your reluctance of being labelled as your mental illness stop you from getting the necessary treatment. Treatment and support is a great way of identifying what’s wrong and reducing symptoms of said problem.  

How Can I Reduce The Stigma Around Mental Illness?

Nearly nine out of every ten person fighting with mental illness has had to deal with a negative impact caused by stigma and discrimination. Not cool, right? So it’s time to stop this repetitive cycle of hatred that circulates in our society. 

Here are some ways we can make the world an easier, kinder, and much more loving world:

  • Educating yourself and those around you
  • Holding campaigns and protesting against this biased behavior and constant stereotyping is a powerful way to help stop people from their misconceptions, demonizing, and negative attitudes towards people fighting with mental illnesses.
  • Encouraging communities to engage with people with mental illness helps them challenge the stereotypes they formerly held deep belief in. 
  • Another way that’s proven to be effective is ‘what to do’ and ‘what to say’ programs. Typically what these include is a trained instructor, who themselves have recovered from a mental illness, helps healthcare professionals realize their unconscious bias. Next, they help them understand and show how they play a role in bettering their recovery process. 



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here