Roots of Stigma
Stigma is a problem within the mental health community that is discussed at large, but we often fail to discuss where it comes from. The roots of stigma in our society can be divided into five different basic categories: A Lack of Knowledge, Responsibility, Uncertainty, Incompetence, and Dangerousness. In order to better combat the stigma that surrounds mental illness, we must first study each of these components and combat each individually.
Lack of Knowledge
Despite efforts by many people, there is still limited knowledge about mental illness as a whole. We know the effects of them, we know how to partially treat some, and we know, biologically speaking, some of the causes. However, we still do not know enough. Further, a lot of the information we do know is not readily available to people who don’t put in serious research efforts. Because of this, many people simply don’t know enough about various conditions.
This category could also be called the “blame game.” This is where, because of the lack of understanding mentioned above, victims of mental illness are often blamed for their own illness. If you were to become distant, agitated, or experience changes in behavior as a result of your mental illness, the people in your life may place the blame of these “issues” on you and expect you to be able to change them easily, quickly, or on your own. This is a product of stigmatization.
Uncertainty can be short term or long term. Short term uncertainty can also be called unpredictability. Unpredictability can be seen in how people with mental illness may be perceived as erratic, unstable, or fitful because of their condition. This perception may cause unfair social distance between a person and their loved ones. As far as the long term goes, the concern is more about how a person’s condition may affect them and their loved ones in the future (near or distant). This can cause loved ones to view a victim’s situation as a waste of time or lost cause. The more uncertain and hopeless the situation may seem, the more likely a person is to be stigmatized by their peers.
Often, people with mental illness can be seen as incapable of performing basic tasks, or people may see them as inferior in certain areas of daily life because of what they struggle with. This can lead to demotions at work, lessening of responsibility, or simply less trust from other people to complete simple requests or tasks. While it may occasionally be a smart choice to lessen the load on someone who experiences a mental illness, doing so because their illness makes it hard for you to trust them should never be a justification. This idea of incompetence surrounding mental illness can lead to stigmatizing situations and regulations that can prevent victims of mental illness from being able to hold positions of power, take hold of more responsibility at their workplace, and be provided other fundamental opportunities.
The category of dangerousness can be summed up in one simple misconception: people with mental illnesses are inherently dangerous because of their condition. This can lead people to distance themselves from victims of mental illness out of fear that they may be at risk of harm at the person’s hands. However, an overwhelming majority of the time this is far from the truth. In fact, according to a study done by Mark A. Bellis at Liverpool John Moores University found that people with mental illness were actually nearly four times as likely to be victims of violence than those without impairments of any kind.
Once we truly understand the roots of stigmatization, we can begin to truly work to end the stigma against mental illness and create a society in which victims of mental illness are treated as normal, everyday members of society and are seen as being capable of being as much of a productive member of society as any other normal-minded person.