Do some mental illnesses face more stigma than others?
Lianna Tosetti examines the damaging stereotypes directed towards certain mental illnesses
What are your first thoughts when someone mentions mental health? Does it make you cringe with discomfort? Or is it something you can relate to and openly talk about? Either way, awareness of mental health has been on the rise in modern society, with charities like Mind and Samaritans advocating for people to speak out about their mental health and initiate discussions. After all, according to mental health charity Mind, “1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year”. But why does there still seem to be a continuing stigma surrounding mental health? It’s true that people are beginning to be more open and accepting of conditions such as depression and anxiety, however there is still an eerie silence on topics of other illnesses such as Schizophrenia and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). As a society, we need to pay more attention to these psychotic illnesses and break the negative stereotype and stigmas that cling to them.
What we know can’t hurt us. Once deemed a weakness and an inability, depression and anxiety have become an acceptable part of society and something not to be ashamed of.
There are various reasons why people seem to steer clear of discussing certain mental illnesses. Depression and anxiety are deemed ‘safer’ subjects, perhaps due to the fact that they are far more common. Many of us have suffered with depression ourselves or know someone who has. Anxiety is a feeling all of us have experienced at some point in our lives, from job interviews, exams or first dates. Therefore, we can relate to people with these issues and have some element of understanding. What we know can’t hurt us. Once deemed a weakness and an inability, depression and anxiety have become an acceptable part of society and something not to be ashamed of. Various celebrities have led the way in this such as Adele, Dwayne Johnson and Stormzy. When our idols speak out about their problems, this normalises the conditions as it shows that even the most talented and apparently untouchable people can be vulnerable.
However, our perception of disorders like Schizophrenia are completely different, partially due to the fact they are far less common than other mental disorders. Therefore, we have less experience and understanding of these conditions, thus these issues, shrouded in mystery, become subjects of discrimination and myths. The true cause of Schizophrenia is still debated, despite the fact that 26 million people worldwide live with it. Some researchers have suggested it is a biological condition. This has led to assumptions that the individual is incurably “broken.” However other researchers have revealed that various environmental exposures can trigger symptoms, thus “research has not identified one single factor”. Through education, we can help people to become aware of the causes, symptoms and treatments of these serious disorders and promote an awareness that this is not a dehumanised schizophrenic, but a person living with schizophrenia. Campaigns such as ‘Time to Change’ have been influential within this.
Moreover, the media has been a large culprit in cultivating a negative stereotype surrounding BPD and Schizophrenia. They have distorted and sensationalised the condition, making us think of someone who is violent, unpredictable, manipulative and evil. Films have often portrayed the villain as someone psychotically unstable, for instance in ‘Split’, James McAvoy plays a crazed, psychopathic killer who has BPD. These depictions have contributed to the fear society has towards these mentally unstable individuals, contrasting with the sympathy we have towards those with depression. These stereotypes have promoted a discrimination that has been massively damaging for those suffering and even affected their recovery and therapy. 50% of persons with schizophrenia have reported discrimination in their personal and working relationships across 27 countries.
Society needs to start abandoning these negative clichés and instead adopt more sophisticated media representations of people with mental illness. By talking, understanding and being kinder about all mental conditions, we can help those living with the disorders to feel more accepted in society.
cover image: Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash