People who suffer from some type of mental disorder, from the mildest to the most serious cases such as psychosis, carry with them a myriad of stereotypes and, consequently, a stigma. A stigma is like a sign that you carry on your forehead by which everyone looks at you and judges you, and above all, they expect a specific behavior from you. Stigmatized people are discriminated against , and in the case of mental disorder, this is due to a kind of fear or lack of confidence, but why is that so?
Mental disorders are very varied and diverse: it is not the same to have anxiety or depression , than agoraphobia or a psychosis such as schizophrenia. With anxiety and depression we feel more familiar, because we have also seen that they are disorders that occur to people around us, but also famous people. Yes, there are many prejudices and stereotypes around people with these types of disorders , but not in the same way as in people with, for example, a disorderbipolar. What happens is that people who suffer from any of these so-called “diseases” are labeled “crazy” and “crazy”. And a “madman” is a person who does “strange things”, who does not have any kind of autonomy, or who can “do something bad” to us.
Stereotypes of “crazy” and “violent”
In reality, a large part of those stereotypes that we have assumed of people with a mental disorder, come from total ignorance mixed with the image that is given of them in the media, and also from works of fiction, such as movies. From television, radio and the press, we receive messages about violent acts committed by people who have a mental disorder: “a patient with schizophrenia attacks …”, “a user of a mental health center assaults …” , etc. The image we are left with is that people with mental disorders are violent and can trigger such a reaction at any time.
However, looking to scientific sources, there is evidence that people with a mental disorder are NOT more violent than people without them . It only occurs in those cases in which the person already had violent reactions prior to developing the disorder, so if we want to prevent violent attacks, the solution is not to “lock up” people with psychosis, but to implement prevention programs of violence in childhood and adolescence.
Stigma affects mental disorder
Although we do not perceive it, the way in which society in general, and people in particular, treat mental illness, has a great influence on the way it develops. Rejection, perceived fear of others, whispering, laughter, lack of understanding, isolation, prejudice, the way they speak to you, or causing embarrassment in your loved ones, has emotional consequences for the person who suffers from the disorder. So even when diagnosed, he or she can take on those preconceptions that he or she might have about other people with disorders in the past, and develop a much more negative self-concept than they should.
Some of the myths about people with mental disorders or illnesses, in addition to being violent people, is that they are people you cannot trust, who are not capable of living independently or autonomously , who cannot play a role. professional work, that they do not finish what they start, that their memory, attention or reasoning capacity is reduced, that they speak nonsense, that they get angry easily, that they make things up, that they are irresponsible, etc.
With these ideas, then when looking for a job, a partner, friends, renting an apartment, starting a study, etc., people reject that person, are afraid, or do not trust their word. Who would not be strongly hurt by this type of attitude? Especially if the person suffering from the disorder thinks that they will never be able to access those rights that other people have, does not know their abilities or does not even want to try to avoid frustration. This means that, in most cases, people with these characteristics try to hide their disorder , leading to great stress because who likes to live in lies?
And is that discrimination has consequences at very different levels, and that is why it is so important to work with the entire community to break down prejudice and stigma.
How to end the stigma against people with mental disorders?
What we need to change is as a society, so that both the people who suffer from a disease, as the professionals who work with them, their family and friends, partners, neighbors, colleagues, etc., do not have a distorted and fearful idea of the disorders behavior.
That is why awareness campaigns are very important. It is useful that from a young age, we know about mental disorders, because they are not a “deviation” from “normality”, but are part of the diversity of personalities and behaviors that people who make up society can have. Much work is being done to prevent the media from falling into those biases and prejudices that make headlines more striking, to avoid fueling the stigma. On the other hand, from fiction (movies, series, novels, theater), it is important to teach models of people with behavioral disorders but without clichés, ridicule or generating fear.
In labor and academia should also receive information about mental disorders as a way to avoid discrimination. Community work and from associations and NGOs dedicated to the inclusion of people with mental disorders is vital, and they should have many means to get their work and message as far as possible.
On an individual level, if you want to break down all the stereotypes you had of people with mental disorders, you can look for information in books, web pages, associations, etc. At Bekia Psicología we will also try to contribute our grain of sand with a lot of information of this type.