The Stigma Around Mental Health

Would you feel comfortable going through life being victimized for something you cannot control? For some of us, that’s a reality. An astonishing 25% of the population in the U.K will experience some kind of mental health problem during the course of a year, with anxiety and depression being the most commonly reported disorders in Britain.

Mental health disorders can affect anyone regardless of age, gender or race. You cannot choose what disorder affects you, or when it rears its ugly head. So if it does, the last thing you need is someone taking it upon themselves to use your illness against you. To bully you into thinking you are something that deserves daily emotional turmoil on top of dealing with your mental disorder. Believe it or not, hundreds of people up and down the British Isles deal with this on a daily basis, myself included. And this needs to stop.

Personally, I believe that the root of the discrimination comes from society. Society has stereotypical views about mental illness and how it affects people. People with mental illnesses are thought to be lazy. Sufferers of other debilitating illnesses such as schizophrenia are seen as violent and dangerous. In truth, they are more at risk of being attacked or harming themselves than harming others. Stigmatization can also worsen someone’s mental health problems and impede them from getting treatment, lengthening their recovery as a result. Social isolation, poor housing, unemployment, and poverty are all linked to decreased mental health. As a result, they can be trapped in an ongoing cycle of illness.

In some cases, people often do try to sympathize with you, exclaiming that:

“That’s totally normal!”

“I know EXACTLY what you mean!”

However, these people don’t really understand the damage of invalidating the internal experiences of a person with a mental health problem. If you were brave enough to confide in someone, you don’t want them to behave as though it’s an average thing. When someone breaks a leg, no one says “stop being so pathetic, you’ve only broken a vital bone”. So why is it if someone cannot leave the house because of their illness, it’s deemed ‘pitiful’ or ‘an excuse to be lazy’?

The Mail Online posted an article on January 6th, 2015, explaining how criminal activities could be the first sign of dementia. This is a prime example of how the media views people with mental illness. On the other hand, before that article was released, they published an article stating, “Mental illness does not drive people to commit crimes”, therefore contradicting themselves entirely. This proves that the media exacerbates the situation, and has no factual understanding of the subject they are commenting on.

News reports often link mental illness with violence. They portray people with mental health problems as dangerous and unable to live normal, fulfilled lives.

This is far from the case.

According to the Mental Health Foundation, people who develop mental illnesses are generally people who are naturally quieter, and have a more reserved place in society. This makes them incapable of being ‘violent’ towards others, or ‘out of control’.

With the appropriate treatment, you can in fact overcome the illness that supposedly holds you back. Take Michael Ellsberg, a journalist from America. He suffers with Bipolar II, and could barely get out of bed in the morning. But with research, the right doctor and the appropriate help, he managed to get over his depressive stage and take control of his life. Ellsberg is now a successful writer and is happily married, proving that mental illness does not stop anyone from living a fulfilled life.

If you believe you are suffering with a mental illness and need support, or you are facing discrimination, there are several places you can go to help you cope. The Mental Health Foundation is extremely helpful on all topics, from discrimination to symptoms on a range of disorders. And your GP is always a good starting point.

A survey conducted by the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) found that people experiencing mental illness were treated unsympathetically by doctors assessing their claims for incapacity benefit. The survey also noted that only 18% of those with mental health problems are employed. This is the lowest employment rate of all disabled groups. Again, strengthening the proof that discrimination is happening, and has a daily impact on people’s lives.

If the damage isn’t physical, why is it not acknowledged?

Ableism is real and it’s affecting a substantial amount of the population. It’s time we started taking discrimination against mental illness seriously.

Have you ever been stigmatized for your illness? How would you stop it? Leave a comment below!


Photo by Jad Limcaco on Unsplash

Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash

Photo by Xavier Sotomayor on Unsplash


Edited by Viveca Shearin

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