Stigma is a Greek word that in its origins referred to a type of marking or tattoo that was cut or burned into the skin of criminals, slaves, or traitors in order to visibly identify them as blemished or morally polluted persons. These individuals were to be avoided or shunned, particularly in public places. (Wikipedia)
Stigma is defined as a mark or token of disgrace, a branding mark. Socially a stigma can be defined as an extreme disapproval of or a discontent with. Stigma involves the use of negative branding, and degrading attitudes, towards a person or a group. Stigma is mostly based and fueled by ignorance, but is sometimes based on extreme prejudices, and judgmental attitudes.
Stigma has reared its ugly head against people with deformities, obesity, hiv/aids, drug addictions, alcoholics, race, religions, sexual orientation and ethnic groups. The mentally ill are a highly stigmatized group. As many as 75% of the mentally ill have experienced the negative effect of stigma.
The resulting effects of stigma can be very harmful to a person as it can make them feel devalued and different. The stigmatized have been scorned, discriminated against and even murdered. Stigma can discourage an ill individual from disclosing their condition to anyone around them and thus be left alone in dealing with it.
Even more concerning is the fear of stigma causes some to actually avoid seeking treatment in an attempt to avoid any risk of being singled out, branded, or degraded by others. The extent to which a mentally ill person encounters stigma in their lives can directly influence their quality of life and recovery achievement levels .
Stigma of Mental Illness:
Stigma against the mentally ill can be very harmful in both direct and subtle ways. Bipolar disorder or Manic Depressive Illness to this day is still quite misunderstood. The Opinion Research Corporation in 1999 polled 1,008 Americans on behalf of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) and the National Depressive and Manic-Depressive Association (National DMDA)
This 1999 poll was a follow up to their similar study of 1995. In this 1999 poll they noted that although in the last 4 years general awareness of the physiological nature of mental illness has increased to (63% vs. 36%), there has been little advancement in people's understanding of bipolar.
According to this poll only 33 percent of its participants knew that bipolar is characterized by wide swings in emotion or mood. Confirming how social stigma continues to govern many people's attitudes toward mental illness, in this poll 44 percent believed people with bipolar are often violent, and another 25 percent thought people who have mood disorders like bipolar, are very different from others.
The Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance or DBSA commissioned a survey of 1,200 American adults,this survey encompassed a good sampling of the U.S. population on the basis of race, ethnicity, gender, education, and geography.
According to the results of this survey, approximately one in four people believed the following about people with mental illnesses like bipolar: (66%) held the incorrect belief that mood disorder medications are habit forming; (29%) believed those with bipolar could not lead normal lives when treated; (26%) believed people with bipolar are easy to identify in the workplace; (19%) said that those with bipolar should not have children, and (18%) believed that people with bipolar are not just like everyone else.
Although over time peoples knowledge about mental illness has improved, many people still do not really understand it. The ignorance about mental illnesses like bipolar leads to unfair and fact-less based stigma's being placed upon the mentally ill.
Stigma is a negative view of a group or a person based on a perception about them, him or her. There are still many people with uninformed perceptions about mental illness and bipolar disorder. Many people still need to be educated about mental illnesses like bipolar.
Oftentimes a mentally ill person may experience stigma as result of how they were perceived at a period when they were not well. This certainly isn't a reasonable way of forming judgement's about a person or group. Stigma however is very rarely the result of maliciousness toward the mentally ill. Stigma toward the mentally ill is perpetrated and fueled primarily by insensitivity and ignorance. However, stigma is unacceptable in any form.
Misplaced stigma's are extremely hurtful and harmful to the mentally ill. But perhaps worst then the stigma received from others because of ignorance and insensitivity mental illnesses, is the often self-stigmatizing those with mental illnesses do to themselves.
Mental Illness and Self-Stigma:
I have the mental illness bipolar and can speak very personally about self-stigma. My bipolar disorder caused me to feel weak, at times I still feel like damaged goods because of my bipolar illness. I have been dealing with bipolar for over 20 years and still at times my illness and inclination toward self-stigma causes me to isolate myself from my loved ones.
The stigma associated with being mentally ill had caused me to give up on treatment, and give up on doing many things I wanted to do. I have mostly tried to hide my illness because I felt ashamed and different from everyone else. Stigma inflicted by others or self inflicted can be a very powerful silencer. Self-stigma can sometimes be the most difficult stigma to fight and has been my hardest battle.
Mental Illness is a chronic illness much the way that diabetes is, the only difference is that one illness is physical and the other is mental. You can't see mental illness on an x-ray, but that doesn't make it any less real.
I am a person with a mental illness, but I am more than a diagnosis, I have dreams, aspirations, and feelings just like everyone else. I have a serious illness called bipolar and for me to live successfully despite it I need to stay educated about my mental illness and stick with my treatments.
Fighting the Stigma of Mental Illness:
According to Ronald Kessler a public health researcher at Harvard University, people with bipolar disorder face an enigma at work. If they disclose their condition, they may face damaging stigma. People with bipolar disorder do often have trouble keeping a job as a result of their mental illness. Statistically people who have the mental illness bipolar are 40 percent less likely to be employed than a person without bipolar. People with bipolar do frequently lose their jobs, or lose relationships as a direct result of their illness.
Although it is true that a person with a mental illness oftentimes struggles to stay employed and have to struggle sometimes to maintain their relationships. On the other hand, Kessler also said, if treated properly, people with the mental illnesses can be creative and invaluable individuals.
The truth of the matter is that many highly successful authors, artists and professionals have mental illnesses. In fact there are many lists on the Internet of famous people who have bipolar.
Because of the stigma many people have about mental illness, people with such a condition have a dilemma. Can they be about their illness in the workplace? Although being open about ones mental illness is helpful to self and helpful in educating others about mental illnesses. Being forward about ones mental illness could put their job at risk.
The truth of the matter is,with the mental illness treatments available nowadays, people with mental illnesses can be quite functional. With long-term support, medication, therapy and a stable job, they may not have an episode for years, or even decades. Although mental illnesses can be disruptive, many people with them lead productive, and in some cases very inspirational lives.
People who have a mental illness are also wrongly perceived to be a high risk for violent behavior. As noted in the study above as many as 44 percent of people polled believed that people with bipolar are often violent.The truth of the matter is, although it is true that the violent mentally ill account for about half the rampage murders in the United States, psychiatric experts say 99 percent of mentally ill people are not violent. And treatment can reduce the risk of violent behavior fifteen-fold in persons with serious mental illness.
There are many misunderstandings about people who suffer with mental illnesses. These misconceptions need to be driven off or the stigma concerning those who are mentally ill will continue to exist. As long as the stigma continues to exist, it will continue to cause people with a mental illness to be hesitant about being open about their condition and they will be left to suffer alone.
Bipolar people are not "crazy" they don't have a character weakness, they have a medical illness. The stigma against those of us who are bipolar, adds an additional plague in addition to the disease we fight. Sometimes the stigma of mental illness, it comes from others, and sometimes it is self inflicted. I can only hope that raising awareness and educating the public will help make a change.
Browsing through the Huffington Post I recently came across an article about former saved by the bell cast member Lark Voorhies. The article was highlighting Ms. Voorhies response to her mother's statement that she was suffering with bipolar disorder. The writer writes "Is Lisa Turtle (her character name) a couple sandwiches short of a picnic??"
I responded very critically for their publishing such a harmful stigma fueling statement. Stigma whether fueled by ignorance, extreme prejudices or judgmental attitudes is harmful. Stigma persists to this day against various groups of people. Speaking up when stigmatic statements are made by others is another way of educating and another step we can take in the goal of STOMPING IT OUT!
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