There is an overriding tendency within human nature to fear what we don’t understand. Throughout history, this “fear of the unknown” has shaped our perception in regard to those who suffer from mental illness.
Assumptions and judgments are formed about people with mental health issues often without any understanding of the causes, symptoms and treatment of a particular disorder. Moreover, people tend to believe that those who are mentally ill have a greater propensity toward displaying violent behavior.
However this is simply not the case. Numerous studies have shown those with mental disorders are no more likely than anyone else to commit violent acts. In fact, the mentally ill are more likely to be the victims of violent crimes than the perpetrators.
The Stigma Softens
In the past, the portrayal of those with mental illness in books, film and television were major contributors to the negative reaction that terms such as “mental disorder” and “schizophrenia” often received from the general public.
However, in more recent years, a greater effort has taken place to educate the public about mental illness. These positive developments include:
- Mental health centers with educational programs that raise public awareness about the truths of mental disorders, as well as addressing successful treatment modalities for OCD, ADHD, depression, and eating disorders.
- Organizations such as the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) that work with media and news organizations to raise awareness about mental illnesses.
- TV shows and documentaries focusing on the lives and struggles of people with bipolar disorders, obsessive compulsive disorders and other illnesses.
- The emergence of celebrities who are beginning to discuss their mental health issues in public forums.
By increasing exposure to the facts and attaching names and faces to various disorders, the stigma and stereotypes surrounding mental illness are gradually fading. All these factors contribute to encouraging those with mental illness and other mental health concerns feel empowered to discuss their issues and seek help.