Stereotypes and Mental Illness: Cash
Mentally Ill people are often victims of stigma, which is defined as a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person. Part of that stigma is found in the stereotyping of these people and their illnesses.
A stereotype is a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing. Let’s look at some stereotypes of mental illnesses and the people who suffer from them.
Stereotype: Mentally ill people are violent
This stereotype about people with mental health conditions is highly entrenched in our society. It is reinforced almost daily by the news media. We hear it nearly every time there is an act of violence we can’t understand.
Fact: Most people with mental illness never commit acts of violence and are more likely than others to be victims of violence. The reality is that people who do not have mental health conditions commit most violent crimes. According to a recent study from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, only 3% of people with mental illness are violent. That means 97% of people with mental illness are not violent.
Stereotype: Mental Illness is God’s judgment for sinful behavior
Some religious folks are convinced that mental illness is nothing but demonic in nature. Some believe mental disorders don’t even exist, or that they are judgments by God because the person is not “spiritual” enough.
Fact: These disorders are recognized after much study as a malfunction inside the brain. This is backed up by the fact that many mental disorders can be treated with medication, and the medication is effective in treating the affliction. If it were all spiritual in nature, how would the medication be effective? A mental disorder is a physical issue just as cardiac disease and diabetes are physical issues.
Stereotype: Mental Illness is a character flaw. You are weak if you need help.
This stereotype is particularly damaging to military folks who suffer from PTSD after a deployment. Though military culture has changed in many positive ways toward this disorder, many troops are still afraid to identify themselves as having a mental health problem because of the stigma that still exists in the military.
They are afraid, in some cases rightly, that their military careers might be affected. For this reason, many don’t get the help they need.
This is true in other professions as well, such as first responders.
Fact: Having a mental disorder is not a character flaw, any more than having any other illness is a character flaw. It is oftentimes a normal reaction to something abnormal in life (such as any trauma), or a person who is born with the propensity toward mental illness. Neither are caused by a character flaw.
Stereotype: Mentally ill people are stupid or slow: Some are so uneducated they think mentally Ill means intellectually inferior. It doesn’t.
Fact: People with mental health issues are not intellectually inferior.
However, there are certain symptoms that can make a person seem somewhat dull of understanding or obtuse.
Using depression criteria and criteria from several mental health conditions, let’s see what might be responsible for this mistaken stereotype:
Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness. (depression)
Problems in concentration. (post traumatic stress disorder)
Dissociation/spacing out. (obsessive compulsive disorder), (post traumatic stress disorder), (dissociative identity disorder)
Impaired cognitive functioning. (bipolar disorder), (schizoaffective disorder), (schizophrenia).
While this isn’t an exhaustive list, it’s enough to explain cognitive difficulties and to respectfully suggest we not be judged to be imbeciles because it might take us a little longer to pick up on something.
There are also intellectual giants in history who suffered from mental health issues. Examples are Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln and Charles Haddon Spurgeon.
These stereotypes are just a small example of the stigma surrounding people with mental health issues. It’s incumbent upon all of us to educate ourselves so that when we see or hear stereotypes being used, we can challenge their underlying assumptions.