Early cultures viewed mental illness as a form of religious punishment, possession or personal weakness. The mentally ill were often viewed as violent or unpredictable and the misguided perceptions about causes of mental illness often led to fear and discrimination. Negative attitudes about mental illness persisted into the 18th century where the primary form of treatment was in state hospitals, which were often underfunded unhygienic and degrading. The mentally ill were treated like outcasts, an attitude that persists today though not as apparent.
The attitudes towards mental health are still tainted towards ignorance. I turned 65 this August and my journey towards Medicare involved awareness about my own depression. It also involved breaking my own shame and letting family and friends in.
Depression, anxiety, counseling, medication and treatment were not topics talked about during the 50’s. There might have been whispers about family members’ behavior. No one openly took medicine or went to therapy. If they did, it was not a topic for discussion.
As a little girl and then an adolescent, I often felt isolated and different. I struggled with binge eating and “disappearing” from friends and family. I had nothing specific to be depressed about but still felt like an outsider. It wasn’t until my twenties that a brush with my own dark thoughts led to therapy and consistent use of medication. I began to understand that I could feel better and lead a productive life.
Stigma can be social or perceived. Social stigma can be found in the prejudicial attitudes found in our media, communities, and workplaces. Look at some of the headlines in which a mental illness is attached to a crime. Is that association necessary? Movies sell tickets and can provide escape, comedy, sensationalism but often misunderstanding.
What are some ways to end stigma?
- Talk openly about mental health-your own and others.
- Educate yourself and others about mental health issues.
- Be conscious of language.”crazy” “psycho” “lunatic” are no more appropriate than using the word”retarded”..
- Encourage equality in how people perceive physical AND mental illness.
- See the person, not the illness
- Question the way in which people who live with mental illness are portrayed in the media.
- Be an advocate for mental health
Glen Close cofounded a website because of her sister’s diagnoses of bipolar depression and her nephew’s of schizophrenia. bringchange2mind .org
Demi Lovato was diagnosed with bipolar depression in 2010 and offers free mental health workshops with her concerts.
I share parts of my history with some of my clients. I am not alone and I want them to know they are not alone.
Silence feeds stigma. Talk