10 Ways Mental Illness Is Stigmatized in Our Culture

Earlier this week, I wrote about the stigma surrounding mental illness. And as I mentioned in that post, I devoted an entire chapter of Troubled Minds to discussion of stigma. This follow-up post lists some of the ways we’re all guilty of reinforcing that stigma, which not only keeps people trapped in shame, but also discourages many from getting the treatment they need.

1. Laughing at mental illness–we regularly watch TV shows and movies that treat mental illness, and people who have such illnesses, as one big joke.

2. Indulging our fears–scary movies, TV shows, haunted houses, amusement park rides, and the evening news all capitalize on our fear of fear itself, and our stereotypes about people with mental illness, and we eat it up.

3. Romanticizing mental illness–sometimes, in a misguided attempt to respect people with mental illness, we suggest their symptoms make them more brilliant, creative, or insightful than the rest of us–thus discouraging people from seeking treatment.

4. Acting as if people with mental illness are mythical creatures–we speak of people with mental illness as if they don’t live among us, sort of like leprechauns and unicorns.

5. Using symptoms as insults–when we really don’t like someone or their personal choices, we flippantly call them “psychotic,” “maniacs,” or “OCD.”

6. Avoiding people–we tend to keep our distance from people we know or suspect have had mental health problems, when we can easily do something as simple as make eye contact and say hello.

7. Making assumptions–we accuse people with mental illness of being weak, lazy, or selfish because they don’t engage in life and relationships in a healthy manner.

8. Keeping silent–we refuse to talk about our own struggles with mental health or stand up for others when people say hurtful or ignorant things.

9. Speaking in hushed tones–when we do speak about mental illness, we tend to do so very quietly, suggesting it’s the kind of thing polite people should never acknowledge.

10. Dismissing symptoms–rather than encourage people to get help or take good care of themselves, we sometimes tell them to “snap out of it” or “get over it,” something many people with mental illness simply can’t do without help.

Watch for my next post, listing 10 ways mental illness is stigmatized specifically in the church.

  1. I have also observed that mentally ill patients’ nutritional needs are never taken very seriously. They tend to develop a very good appetite while on medication and enough food should be made available to them instead of calling them gluttonous.

© 2013 Amy Simpson.