Stigma of Mental Illness
I was watching the news yesterday and was struck by how totally unaware people are when they use terms which are associated with mental illness and unknowingly contribute to stigma. There was one story about traffic jams caused by malfunctioning equipment and the word “crazy” and “insane” was used no less than 5 times! What was worse than the number of times these words were used, was the fact that the people who were saying them did so effortlessly and really had no awareness that this contributes to the stigma surrounding mental illnesses.
I am often astonished by the ease at which people will throw out derogatory and hurtful terms when referring to an individual who may have a particular condition associated with mental illness. I am not referring to any one place in which these terms are heard…but everywhere. I did an experiment and watched television for 1 hour last night and recorded derogatory terms associated with mental illness. The diagram below is what I heard on various channels…in one hour!
Is it any wonder then that the people who do have a particular mental illness condition have traditionally tried to hide it? Words are hurtful and can do an extreme amount of damage…intended or not. It is my hope that such words will fall into disuse and society will begin to describe the person. Individuals who may be battling an illness such as schizophrenia, BPD, depression or anxiety are people first and should be described with positive words and phrases which all people are entitled to. I would encourage everyone to describe the individual with their unique characteristics. When I think of an individual I know who is battling a condition of mental illness I do not think of any of the words above…instead I think of the words below…
We are all human beings and deserve to be treated and described with empathy, respect and the uniqueness of being an individual. Considering my experiment from last night…we have a long way to go!