Stigma Associated with Mental Disorders


There is a stigma or negative stereotype associated with most mental disorders that occurs due to lack of information, knowledge and understanding of an illness. People are most comfortable with illnesses they can see. If the illness is physical in nature, it is easy to empathize with the person suffering from symptoms that are easily visible in lots of cases. Even if they are invisible, such as when it comes to fibromyalgia, we can relate to the symptoms of physical pain that the person experiences.

When it comes to the illness of the mind, such as depression or anxiety, physical symptoms that one may be experiencing are often invisible. A person may be experiencing physical pain in the chest area during a panic attack, or having stomach pain associated with anxiety, and we are able to relate to those symptoms of physical pain. However, if the person that suffers from anxiety discloses such symptom as feeling of constantly being sad; most people do not know how to react to that. One of the common questions would be “Why don’t you just snap out of it?”, like a person has a switch and can turn on and off feelings and their racing mind on a command.

For centuries, stigma has followed people that have suffered from mental illness. In the older days, people with mental disorders were seen as unfit to be part of the regular society if they could not function daily based on society norms. Such people would often be kept locked in the house, away from prying eyes as other healthy relatives would be ashamed to have a member of the family poisoned with mental illness. When people were looking for future spouse, family history of mental disorders was among the one to be taken into consideration when one would choose a parent for their future children. For the longest time, people with mental illness had no medication developed to deal with their symptoms, and most often they would be regarded as crazy, especially if symptoms escalated without treatment.

There are many extremely difficult to understand mental illnesses that people may suffer from. From manic bi-polar disorder to schizophrenia, range of symptoms may vary from person to person. When someone is clearly disconnected from reality, it is easy for people to label that person as disillusioned and not to try to understand any further issues related to the illness. However, when person is suffering from mental illness such as a depression, it is really hard to see the symptoms, especially if they are mild to moderate in nature. Unless the person is unable to literally get out of the bed on daily basis, it is very hard for other people to even guess that one is suffering from depression.

People that are depressed are suffering from stigma associated with their illness as:

  • They do not want to be perceived as crazy
  • They often pretend that everything is normal to most people around them
  • Such pretension of normal life takes an extra toll on the person and leads to further depression and exhaustion
  • They want to lead normal life
  • They want their old self back
  • They do not want to be treated differently than other people

If you are a family member or a friend of the person that suffers from depression or anxiety, you can help by:

  • Providing support when needed in terms of comfort and understanding
  • Do not treat person like they are sick if they try their best to behave normally
  • If you see someone experiencing an episode ask what you can do to help and listen to offered solutions.  Most often, people with depression just want to be either left alone or go for a coffee and pretend nothing is happening
  • If you pursue the issue trying to help most likely you will only make it worse as depressed person may not be emotionally and physically ready to execute your suggested solutions which will only make them believe that they are failing you at that moment
  • Offer your love and hug them if permitted
  • Do not trivialize or belittle their symptoms or condition
  • Always ask what you can do to help and show that you care

People that suffer from anxiety and depression often feel that they are being judged and misunderstood by others as healthy people may deem them to be unpredictable, violent and dangerous. In order to change stigma society has on mental illness you can start by leading an example with sensitivity and acceptance towards those affected by a mental illness. Choose your words thoughtfully so that person that suffers from mental condition would feel good about themselves. It is not easy to suffer from a condition that most people do not understand. With the right treatment and care, most people are able to lead normal life. Sometimes, the only reason others would know about them having a mental illness is because they trusted you with this information.

Do not break that trust or judge them, show them that you care and that may help ease the symptoms they experience on daily basis. Most often, they just need a friend that is ready to offer helping hand. Be that friend; let the positive change in society stereotype start with you.

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