“Crazy” “Nuts” “Psycho” “Looney” “Weirdo” “Freak” “Mental” “Cuckoo”
These are all words that have been associated with those who have a mental disorder.
Interestingly enough, about 1/4 adults live with a diagnosable mental illness each year. In America alone, that translates to almost 60 million people. Of these 60 million, less than 20% ever seek treatment.
So let’s get this straight…only 1 out of every 5 people with a mental illness ever get treatment?!? How could this be?
Well, there are many reasons why people do not seek medical intervention when they have any kind of illness, whether lack of money, lack of information, or just complete apathy.
However, I firmly believe that many people do not seek help for mental illness because of the social stigma that is involved with it. In general, most people fear what they do not understand, and many people still believe huge misconceptions when it comes to mental illness. These include the following: (taken from Canadian Mental Health Association)
People with mental illness are violent and dangerous. The truth is that, as a group, mentally ill people are no more violent than any other group. In fact, they are far more likely to be the victims of violence than to be violent themselves.
People with mental illness are poor and/or less intelligent. Many studies show that most mentally ill people have average or above-average intelligence. Mental illness, like physical illness, can affect anyone regardless of intelligence, social class or income level.
Mental illness is caused by a personal weakness. A mental illness is not a character flaw. It is an illness, and it has nothing to do with being weak or lacking will-power. Although people with mental illness can play a big part in their own recovery, they did not choose to become ill, and they are not lazy because they cannot just “snap out of it.”
Mental illness is a single, rare disorder. Mental illness is not a single disease but a broad classification for many disorders. Anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, personality disorders, eating disorders and organic brain disorders can cause misery, tears and missed opportunities for many people
People with mental illness are sick the same way someone with the flu gets sick. Most physicians agree on the biopsychosocial model of psychiatry, which essentially admits that there are biological, psychological, and social factors that all collectively contribute to mental illness.
However, no one can argue that between the labeling words we use and the way mental illness is portrayed in society and the media, our society does not look favorably on those who are mentally ill. In an experiment done by a group of psychiatrists, each one admitted themselves to a mental institution as schizophrenics. They of course were not mentally ill, but they did not let the mental institution know about their experiment. The results? They were treated horribly, inhumane, as if they were not truly human. Even when they acted completely “normal”, those who ran the institution explained their behavior as “bizarre”. Again, it is clear that just the label of “mental illness” alone is enough to completely change the way one person is viewed in society.
If you feel you or someone you love has a mental illness, I would strongly encourage you to seek treatment. Living through the daily and constant suffering of a mental illness may rob the individual of a full life. Contact your primary care physician for more information.
And for those of you who are not personally affected…Would you make fun of someone with terminal cancer? Would you deny someone treatment for a chronic illness? Then you shouldn’t perpetuate the stigma for mental illness. The best way to not be afraid of it is to educate yourself.
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