How the stigmatization of mental illness needs to be eradicated by awareness and education.
Is Psychiatric illness a stigma..? When Brooke Shields, the famous U.S model and Hollywood actress, spoke about her almost fatal brush with post-partum depression, the world was shocked. This was in the year 2005.In the same year, Hollywood actor Tom Cruise, criticized Shields of using anti-depressants as a part of her treatment. What do we see here? In this century of advancement in the fields of science and technology, and in one of the superpowers of the world, we find that people who still refuse to acknowledge psychiatric illness and advocate use to medical help and counseling prescribed by the mental health professionals. Coming back to India, circa 1992, famous actress of the yesteryears, the late Parveen Babi, releases some press statements of highly volatile nature. The result? The media shows more interest in her private life, by stating that she has a “history of mental illness” and that she had suffered from schizophrenia, however, people from her fraternity decided to distance themselves from this lonely woman, instead of providing her assistance. Now we arrive at the crux of the issue: is psychiatric illness a stigma? What is a Stigma? It is when someone judges you based on your personal traits.Unfortunately,people with mental illness face this on day-to-day basis. It could be subtle, like people ignoring you, looking through you, giving you the cold shoulder, using sarcasm. Or it can be an aggressively delivered criticism or rude remarks questioning one’s ability and independence. The stigma attached to psychiatric illness is one of the major obstacles in the provision of proper medical care and better quality of life. The U.S Surgeon General stated in 1999 “Powerful and pervasive, stigma prevents people from acknowledging their own mental health problems, much less disclosing them to others”. Stigma has highly negative consequences on the life of the individual with mental illness: Low self-esteem and lack of independence (increasing restrictions imposed) Lack of understanding by family, friends, colleagues Discrimination at educational institutions Bullying, physical violence or harassment Health insurance that doesn`t adequately cover our mental illness Society has this severe misconception that people with psychiatric illness are a threat to the society and individual entities too. People with depression are thought to be rude or unsocial or lazy or brooding. Whereas psychology has a very scientific reason for such an individual`s behavior. Besides, media loves to portray mental illness in a negative light. We often use words like psycho, bonkers, spastic, retard with no regard for the sentiments of people suffering from mental illness. However, Leon Eisenberg, M.D Harvard Medical School, states that persons who are seriously ill mentally are far more likely to be the victims of violence than it`s initiators. This is often overlooked by the society in general.
I feel that stigma against psychiatric illness is very similar to racism or sexism. The common ground being, that people are discriminated and condemned over something that they no control over. Mark Stein, a U.S Radio host, in his article “Racism Taints Airwaves” states of organizations that are dedicated to putting an end to the stigma attached to psychiatric illness. One of them is the NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). The NAMI has excellent resources called StigmaBusters, which is a network of dedicated advocates across the country and around the world who seek to fight inaccurate and hurtful representations of mental illness. The StigmaBusters have had successes such as when they were able to stop a Teddy Bear company in Vermont, USA, to stop the production of their line of Teddy Bear in a strait jacket which said “Can`t Eat ,Can`t Sleep, Crazy About You.” People are also asked not to patronize companies which use terms or indulge in activities or use to products and \ or literature which bears derogatory connotations towards psychiatric illness. Intervention (medical as well as emotional) is necessary, along with the support of family members, relatives, friends, colleagues. Mental Health officials such as Psychologists, Psychiatrists need to be careful about causing stigma through iatrogenesis, that is, stigma induced inadvertently by a physician or surgeon or by medical treatment or diagnostic procedures. Help providers need to be careful while using terms so that they do not cause a lasting stigma to the individual suffering from mental illness or psychiatric illness. Society needs to realize that psychiatric illness is something that is not a taboo to talk about or seek help or to provide help to. Some of the most famous individual the world over, have suffered from psychiatrist illness and have triumphed over it. Some of them are: Isaac Newton, most famous mathematician, suffered from Bipolar Disorder Ludwig van Beethoven, world famous composer, suffered from bipolar disorder Abraham Lincoln, 16th President of U.S. suffered from severe and debilitating
suicidal depression Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of Great Britain, suffered from severe and serious depression. Virginia Woolf, most significant writers of the 20th century, suffered from severe and serious depression and experienced the mood swings of bipolar disorder her entire life. John Nash, Nobel Prize Winner in mathematics, has faced a lifelong battle with schizophrenia. On this note I would like to conclude my article hoping that more awareness is generated among people and more assistance is provided to the individuals with psychiatric illness. Let us remember that “THROUGH GREAT ADVERSITY COMES GREATER TRIUMPH”. -Ms. Anagha. G