Most of us have an idea of what it is to suffer from a mental illness, but most of our perceptions and understandings have been distorted through traditionally held social beliefs and attitudes. In this regard, the advertiser supported popular media, as a reflection of society, has done almost nothing to change this distorted view of mental illnesses. Even today, characters in soap operas and movies who are shown as aggressive, dangerous and unpredictable have their abnormality attributed to a mental illnesses (Weiss, 2006).
Also, the stigma is worse for certain mental conditions. For example, Schizophrenia is more widely stigmatized than disorders such as depression, anxiety and panic attacks. So much so that it is regularly mocked and made fun of in the mainstream culture leading to lack of compassion for the patients. Contrastingly depression is less subject to ridicule, given the sober and melancholic nature of the symptoms. The popular advertisements for antidepressant medications have further made the illness well understood and hence more acceptable in the modern society (Kelly, 2007).
With increasing progress in the medical sciences, and especially psychology and sociology, our society is at an opportune time to turnaround the dark history of stigmatization associated with mental illnesses. Yet, while physicians try to understand the workings of the brain, many of its functions still remain a mystery. Even at the most advanced research laboratories, the abnormal functioning of the brain is only understood at a theoretical level, without any concrete evidence to substantiate it. But what is important though is that there is a consensus within the medical community that most psychiatric illnesses are induced to physiological (or organic) causes. To this extent, they are on par with physical illnesses like cancer and tuberculosis. Hence, the sufferers should be treated just like the physically afflicted get treated. This thesis is one of the most important one to have emerged in medical sciences over the last decade or so. It is hoped that a wider awareness of this new sociological understanding of mental illnesses will pave the way for a more tolerant society (Lieberman, 2007). For example,
“It is sometimes easy to forget that our brain, like all of our other organs, is vulnerable to disease. People with mental illnesses often exhibit many types of behaviors such as extreme sadness and irritability, and in more severe cases, they may also suffer from hallucinations and total withdrawal. Instead of receiving compassion and acceptance, people with mental illnesses may experience hostility, discrimination, and stigma.” (Coker, 2005)
An effort to raise awareness among people about the facts about mental illnesses will go a long way in alleviating the suffering of millions of affected individuals.
Discrimination against people afflicted with mental disorders is common across geographies and cultures. The old and the young alike are subject to ridicule and social isolation as a result. One recent survey had found that one in six people in the Western countries have gone through periods of mental illnesses at one point or other in their lives. Hence, this problem should be addressed in political forums like the Congress and the Senate. The twenty percent of the population that goes through the ordeals of dealing with mental illnesses can organize themselves into a political force and get some legislation done that reflects the necessary empathy and seriousness this class of the populace deserves. The lack of awareness among the policymakers can have dire consequences in professional and personal lives of the affected individuals (Angermeyer, 2004).
The stigma associated with mental illnesses can have a profound effect on the individual affected. For example,
“This affects their ability to perform duties, their revival, treatment procedure and support they receive, and their recognition in the group of people. Stigma is considered as a sign of shame, dishonor or disapproval, of being rejected by others. Stigma is painful and humiliating. It is a need of hour to address the root causes of the myths and ignorance that surround social stigma.” (Angermeyer, 2004)