We’re all familiar with how a lot of people tip-toe around and speak in hushed tones using hints and round-about phrases in the presence of a person dealing with a mental illness. There’s this notion that people dealing with mental health issues need to be subjected to different behaviour and somehow, they need to be avoided. Well, these are all effects of the various stereotypes associated with mental illness.
Why are People with Mental Health Issues Stereotyped?
Although a lot of progress has been made in the field of Psychology and Mental Health in the past few decades, the majority of the population is unaware and unsensitised regarding the concept of mental health. As a result of this, they perceive the ones dealing with mental illness as almost alien-like, as out of the ordinary. This further leads to the categorization of people, who are dealing with these issues, as separate from the general populace, thus, distancing them from what is perceived as “normal.” This distancing occurs due to a lack of required knowledge in the field and gives rise to several stereotypes.
Stereotypes are preconceived, generalized and often false notions regarding a group of people. There is a social divide that is created between “normal” people and people dealing with mental health problems. This restricts a lot of communication that otherwise would have taken place more freely regarding mental health and illnesses between the the people experiencing mental health problems and the ones who aren’t acquainted with these problems. This lack of communication leads people to generate preconceived notions and stigmas around mental health, which are mostly based on false assumptions.
Common Negative Stereotypes About People Suffering from Mental Health Issues
We encounter several negative stereotypes that are deeply entrenched in the minds of people regarding people suffering from mental health issues. Some of the most common ones are:
People dealing with mental health issues are “crazy”: More often than not, the ones dealing with a mental illness which might be either anxiety or depression or some sort of OCD, are marked as downright “crazy.” They are thought to have lost their minds completely and treated accordingly.
They are “lazy”: This is a stereotype associated frequently with people dealing with depression and social anxiety. Their condition restricts them from venturing into regular plans made with friends or other social situations, but all of this is seen as just an excuse by many, and they are thought to be lazy and demotivated.
They are “weak”: Someone being affected by a mental illness, is a lot of the times seen as a sign of weakness in the individual. They are constantly shamed for not being able to “toughen up” or “bear the grind.” Because to many, mental illnesses are nothing but illusions of the mind or excuses made up to justify one’s behaviour.
They are “self-indulgent”: People dealing with mental health issues for a long time, which might range from months to years, are seen as self-indulgent. They are blamed and shamed for what society sees as wallowing in their grief and taking pleasure in it.
They are a “bad influence”: A lot of people think that people with a mental illness should be avoided, and they should not be included in social gatherings or peer groups because they can “influence” others to be like them.
They “cannot be cured”: The concept of mental illness, to many, is nothing but a way of seeking attention. To them, it’s a mere “excuse” to account for someone’s apparent “laziness”. Since it is trivialized to this extent, a lot of people believe that people with mental illnesses cannot be cured because they “enjoy” it and reap the benefits.
They are “undeserving of respect”: Since people with mental health issues are held guilty for their condition by many, and they are seen as people who are literally out of their minds, they are not treated with respect. A large part of society does not treat them with the minimum decency that a human deserves.
Apart from such convoluted notions that have taken the form of deep-rooted stereotypes, how mental illness is portrayed in the media, or the popular media like movies and TV shows, also contributes towards establishing such stereotypes and mental health stigma. Characters dealing with mental health issues are generally portrayed as the villain, they are either depicted as “psychopaths” or “sociopaths” who are incapable of feeling any emotion or are extremely jealous and murderous and cannot empathize with anything or anyone. Or else, they are shown as lacking any sort of agency and in need of constant surveillance. They are portrayed as either a threat to the people around them or to themselves.
The Effect of Stereotypes on Those Suffering from Mental Health Problems
The above-mentioned stereotypes have a fatally negative impact on the people dealing with mental health problems. Such stereotyping and stigma make the very concept of mental illness taboo. As a result, individuals suffering from mental illnesses most of the time feel ashamed of their condition and, for fear of judgment and social isolation, hide it from their family and peers. This further prevents them from seeking the proper treatment like therapy or counseling that would help them deal with the problem effectively. Lack of proper treatment can, in turn, have disastrous effects on mental illnesses and might even become life-threatening. A lot of suicides occur because the individuals battling depression do not feel like they have a safe space to talk about it, or what they are feeling is normal. Depression can become chronic and extremely difficult to manage if it is sustained for a long time without proper treatment. As per a survey conducted by WHO in 2020, in the mental illness youth statistics, suicide ranks fourth as one of the leading causes for death in 15 to 19-year-olds, and a mental illness in children usually starts by the age of 14 and more often than not, this goes undetected.
For children whose mental illnesses go undetected, the symptoms start intensifying gradually, and finally, it becomes entrenched and affects their adult life as well. This results in disturbed family and social lives and general overall disharmony in one’s internal being.
Apart from this, people who are already in the process of seeking treatment find it harder to get better when they encounter such harsh stereotypes and inconsiderate behavior. These stereotypes make them question themselves, feel unseen and unheard.
Battling with a mental illness is already hard enough in itself. The added pressure of social stigma, discriminatory behavior makes it worse than ever.
How Can We Help Reduce the Stigma Around Mental Illness?
Raising awareness and generating a conversation or a discourse around mental health and mental illnesses should be the primary steps towards reducing the stigma. And, the inclusion of the general population in such discourses and discussions is of utmost importance. Schools should focus on arranging such awareness drives, where not only the students but the parents are educated about mental health issues as well. Educating parents and sensitizing them properly regarding mental illnesses will help them support their children better and also take care of their own mental well-being.
Compassion, empathy and kindness can help one understand people dealing with mental health issues. The ThatMate app is always there to help you gain more insight into matters relating to mental health and provide you with essential, useful tips to deal with your and your child’s mental health problems as well.
Instead of blaming the person suffering from the illness, instead of calling them names and labeling them as self-indulgent attention-seekers or treating them as bad influences, the society as a whole should embrace them, understand them, and that can only be done when the general population will have the knowledge required to understand and comprehend mental health problems.