Community Problem: The Stigmatization of Mental Illness
University of New Brunswick
Illness is something that is an inevitable part of our lives. It is rare that you could find an individual that has not been affected by illness, either directly with their own diagnoses or indirectly with the illness of a loved one. Having any sort of illness causes immense strain on an individual as well as their family unit; but what happens when a person is suffering from an illness in silence and shame? Mental illness affects 1 out of every 5 individuals in Canada and does not discriminate according to age, education level, or occupation. The issue that I want to discuss however is not mental illness it is the stigma associated with it that causes added stereotypes and shame for the people who are suffering. In the dictionary stigma is defined as a mark of disgrace or infamy; a stain or reproach as on one's reputation. Ultimately stigma is made up of two parts: negative and unfavourable attitudes and negative behaviours that result from those attitudes. People with mental illness often experience stigmatization surrounding many aspects of their lives; inequality in employment, educational, and housing opportunities, the loss of friends and family members, as well as self-stigma which occurs when the person with mental illness begins to buy into the negative stereotypes. One can not imagine someone suffering from cancer having to feel shame and disgrace from their diagnoses, so why is it accepted that someone diagnosed with schizophrenia or depression sustains an automatic threat to their reputation. Society feels uncomfortable with mental illness, causing it to become the elephant in the room and in turn brushing human beings with real problems under a societal rug. Due to inaccuracies and misunderstandings, people have been led to believe that an individual with a mental illness has a weak character or is inevitably dangerous. If someone becomes ill they would go to the doctor obtain a diagnoses, receive treatment and ideally become well, and life would go on. People will mental illness rarely see this series of events occur and life often times does not fit back into place for people with mental illness and often times they don't even seek help. Everyone has a right to be an active part of their community but people with mental illness often face a world of rejections and exclusions, and this is a community problem that needs to be addressed.
One of the main barriers that is perpetuating the stigmatization and oppression of people with mental illness is the media. The media often reinforces the popular myths about mental illness precipitating shame, self-blame, and secrecy, all of which discourage affected individuals from seeking treatment. The mass media is society's primary source of public information about mental illness, and often highlights negative images and stereotypes. There is a clear connection between negative media portrayals and the public's negative attitudes towards people with mental health issues. In 1998 Rose performed a study showing that television was the most powerful medium for framing public consciousness. It was found that media representations of mental illness are so powerful that they can override people’s own personal experiences in relation to how they view mental illness. According to Diefenbach’s 1997 content analysis of television programming, depictions of people with inferred psychiatric conditions or stated psychiatric diagnoses were highly correlated with the portrayal of violent crime. In reality people suffering from mental illness without concurrent substance abuse are no more likely to commit a violent crime than anyone else. Some of the common masks that are worn by people with mental illness in the media are the rebellious free spirit, violent murderer, narcissistic dictator, mad scientist, sly manipulator, helpless and depressed female. In...
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