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Stigma on People with Mental Illness

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Many people diagnosed with mental disorders are challenged by the stereotypes and prejudice that result from misconceptions about mental illness. Stereotypes often depict people with mental illness as being dangerous, unpredictable, responsible for their own illness or generally incompetent. All of which can lead to excluding people with these conditions from employment opportunities, developing meaningful relationships, and being part of social gathering. People with mental illness may begin to believe the negative thoughts expressed by others, causing diminished self-esteem, which can lead to not seeking treatment, withdrawal from society, possible drug or alcohol abuse or even suicide in some cases. Not seeking medical attention could worsen their health and well- being.

Throughout history, people with psychological disorders have often been looked upon with adverse opinions from their families and their communities. Often families and friends will not understand the illness and the symptoms that accompany it. They will think the patient either brought the disorder on himself or should be able to “snap out” of the problem. Because of the fear of being ostracized, many people will not seek the help they need, whether from counselling or a physician. If a psychological disorder is ignored, it can have a devastating effect on a person both mentally and physically, which could also occur if a physical medical illness is ignored. When individuals are no longer afraid of being shunned by family or friends for their psychological disorder, they are more likely to seek treatment. With treatment, over time, their symptoms could be controlled, and they could eventually operate like any other healthy individual within society.

One of the many significant factors that lead to the confusion of whether psychological disorders are just like any other form of physical illness is the misunderstanding of it. Mental illness is described as a disorder that can cause psychological or behavioral disturbances. Throughout history, psychological disorders have formed the basis for a foundation of fear and misunderstanding to individuals that do not understand about the disorders. For an example of this misunderstanding, one just has to look at how psychological disorders were treated by society in history. During the medieval times in Europe superstition was rampant if a person suffered from any mental disorders during this time, they were thought to be possessed by the devil. If the priest could not “cure” the individual, they were shunned or, at the worst, executed. Another instance of misunderstanding occurred in the seventeenth century at Bedlam, an asylum for the mentally ill in England. To raise money for the hospital, it opened its doors to the public so they could view the patients in cages and witness the “side show” at the hospital.

This not only showed the hospital personnel did not understand nor care about the mentally ill, but society looked to these individuals for their entertainment. A negative mindset is a causative factor that leads to a variety of conclusions about mental illness. If a child had been raised by parents that looked negatively at someone with a psychological disorder then as an adult, that child would likely continue to look negatively at any individual diagnosed with mental illness. It is, therefore, such a great challenge to deal with since one diagnosed as mentally ill will have to live in a society of such negativity in which it will also influence the relationship between the individuals and the people around them. However, this should not be the case since proper treatment can help control or even heal the psychological disorder.

Psychological disorders have been clouded with misconceptions about the inability to be treated correctly for years, but this has been proven to not be true. The illness can be treated through offering medical services for treatment and helping them to not feel like they are a stigma on society to be shunned and hid away. It has been realized that one of the many reasons a person will not seek treatment for their psychological disorder is that of stigmatization challenges which they face from their friends, families, and society as a whole. Family and friends can help an individual who suffers from mental illness by assisting them with finding a professional to help treat the disorder. In doing this, it shows the person suffering with mental illness is not alone, and it is productive to seek treatment for their illness so they can begin the healing process. An individual that is helping, should never lose patience with a mentally ill patient but rather give them hope to live.

Psychological disorders might cause an individual a certain amount of disability with functioning productively in society, but there are several ways a person can help with this. Their family, friends, coworkers and acquaintances should show compassion and a willingness to help the patient be a productive member of society. For instance, a person that suffers from social anxiety disorder that started to have a panic attack could be helped by those around him or her by showing understanding and patience as they help them work through the attack. Another way to help would be for those related to the person suffering from a psychological disorder, or those that are in close contact with the individual, show compassion by expressing a willingness to assist them with tasks when and if needed. People in the community such as fellow church members, classmates, teammates, and coworkers could show their support by embracing the individual with dignity and respect. It is vital to always remember that no one plans or wishes to have to face the challenge of a mental illness; therefore, placing blame on these individuals, judging them, and calling them names is not only nonproductive in their healing process, but is also a cruel, senseless act that should be avoided.

A psychological disorder is like any other medical illness and should be treated as such. If a patient were to suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, but unaware of this, and had difficulty breathing, their family or friends would encourage them to immediately seek help. The patient would have blood work and chest x-rays completed by a physician to determine the cause of the shortness of breath. Once diagnosed, he or she would be given the proper treatment to help manage the disease. If left untreated it could lead to progression of the disease, heart problems and respiratory distress, all of which could be fatal to the patient. The same assistance should be given to a patient with mental illness. Oftentimes, a person may not know they are suffering from a mental illness. They could experience paranoia, dark thoughts, sadness that lasts for a long time, involuntary movements, disturbed sleep, etc. and think it’s just temporary and nothing to worry about, but a person close to the individual might notice the changes and should, just like with the patient with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, encourage the patient to seek medical help. Mental illness does not go away on its own and if it persists, it will be harder to treat and cause a decline in mental health and the possible manifestation of physical symptoms, such as headaches, muscle pain or gastrointestinal disorders.

Part of the mindset society has for people dealing with mental illness is that the person is their illness. A person dealing with Bipolar Disease is not “Bipolar”, rather they have a Bipolar disorder. With proper treatment, this disorder can be managed effectively. Mental illness is not a sign of weakness. Understanding mental illness as a treatable medical condition may help reduce stigmas placed on individuals suffering from these disorders. Suffering from a psychological disorder can be a very terrifying experience to go through alone. A person dealing with severe depression, may think no one will understand them, accept them or that they will never be able to pull themselves out of the darkness that feels all-consuming at the time, all of which could lead to thoughts of suicidal ideation and acting on it. It is never an individual’s wish to deal with the difficult situation of mental illness. Many psychological disorders can be effectively managed by a licensed professional, which can lead to the individual being able to function in society. In conclusion, to help overcome these stigmas, society should show support and treat people suffering from mental disorders with respect, even if they do not understand what the person is going through.

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