Renouncing the Stigma of Mental Illness
“It’s said that people with mental illness face a double-edged sword,” writes Margarita Tartakovsky. “Not only do they have to contend with serious, disruptive symptoms, they still have to deal with rampant stigma. Sadly, mental illness is still largely shrouded in stereotypes and misunderstanding.”1
But here are the facts, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness2:
- They are disorders of the brain that disrupt a person’s thinking, feeling, moods and ability to relate to others. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illnesses are brain disorders that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life.
- Mental illnesses are more common than cancer, diabetes, or heart disease. Mental illnesses can affect persons of any age, race, religion or income.
- Despite media focus on the exceptions, individuals receiving treatment for schizophrenia are no more prone to violence than the general public.
- One in five families is affected in their lifetime by a severe mental illness, such as bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia or major depression.
- Most importantly, these brain disorders are treatable. Most people with serious mental illness need medication to help control symptoms. Supportive counseling, self-help groups, housing, vocational rehabilitation, income assistance and other community services can also provide support and stability, leaving the focus on recovery.
Not all experts agree with this medical model, that mental illness is solely or necessarily a brain disorder. As John M. Grohol states, “Mental disorders … are complex disorders that involve genes, biology, personality, social development, environment, relationships, and a whole lot more in most people.”3
But, as in Carole Cohen’s case, the proper medication has often proven effective. For these individuals, it’s hard to argue against the medical model.
And for any individual who faces the challenges of a mental illness, the last thing he or she needs is the stigma and resulting isolation. It is time to challenge the negative stereotypes that surround people with mental illness and put into practice the words of a famous rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12).
3 John. M. Grohol, PSYD, “Mental Disorders are Not Simple ‘Brain Illnesses'”