“What is Stigma?
· An attempt to label a particular group of people as less worthy of respect than others
· A mark of shame, disgrace or disapproval that results in discrimination
· Not just a matter of using the wrong word or action – its about disrespect”
NAMI multicultural action center web site
People with mental health issues sometimes choose to put off seeking much needed treatment, due to stigma in our culture. Once they are diagnosed with a mental illness, people have to live with the problems that go along with being officially diagnosed with a mental illness.
There are potential consequences in regards to employment, insurance and education. This is not to mention the discrimination in social contexts as well.
The Americans with Disabilities Act was passed in 1990. According to the Department of Labor web site, the Disabilities Act protects disabled persons in the following ways…
“prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in employment, transportation, public accommodation, communications, and governmental activities. “
Interestingly, when I went to the Disability.gov web site and typed in Mental health, there was no information on the entire web site. It just gave me a list of links to non-government web sites like Mental Health America and National Alliance on Mental Illness.
The same thing happened when I typed in Mental Illness. Just a list of links to non-profit organizations not affiliated with the government.
The disabilities act may protect people with physical disabilities, but it seems to provide little to protect people with mental illnesses like depression, PTSD, severe anxiety disorders, OCD, and bipolar disorder.
People that have been diagnosed with mental illnesses are discriminated against on a regular basis. They are discriminated against in the workplace and when seeking employment.
The employers will get around it by fabricating reasons not to hire someone. They cannot fire someone for having a disability but they can make up another reason.
The common perception of the public, about people with bipolar disorder is that they are unpredictable and possibly dangerous. Often times when you hear on the news about a person committing a random crime like a robbery, you will hear the news casters attributing the criminals actions to having bipolar disorder.
Of course there are people with bipolar disorder that commit crimes. There are people without bipolar disorder that commit crimes too. But if the news people find out that an offender does happen to have bipolar then they will make a big deal about how the person’s antisocial behavior must have been the fault of their bipolar disorder.
Guess what? Often times when someone commits a violent crime, they have antisocial personality disorder or some other mental illness. Whether or not the person had bipolar disorder probably had nothing to do with their committing a violent crime.
They may have been someone that was misdiagnosed with bipolar. Many sociopaths can convince a mental health professional that they have a different mental illness. They are actors and can manipulate the system.
The person may also have a co-morbid conditions of bipolar and anti-social personality disorder. It would be the anti-social traits that would lead the person to commit a crime, rather than the bipolar.
But it is so often misconstrued by the mental health professional and the news media that the general public has the impression that people with bipolar disorder are prone to crime and outbursts of anger and violence.
Violent crimes and breaking laws are not traits of bipolar disorder, but now you can see why some people put off treatment due to the stigma about bipolar disorder.
People with clinical depression and bipolar disorder are discriminated against for life insurance because they are perceived as a suicide risk. The funny thing is that life insurance does not ever cover suicide anyway!
People with diagnosis for anxiety disorders, bipolar and depression are sometimes discriminated against by colleges. If the college finds out that you have a diagnosis with a mental illness they do not want to risk their precious reputation on you. You might do something to “embarrass them”
They also do not have confidence that you will be able to handle the course load. I know people with mental illnesses that attend college and work harder than many other students. They know what disabilities they have and they work hard to succeed in spite of their condition.
Mental illness is stigmatized in the media and in the movies. When friends find out that someone has mental illness they sometimes assume it is like what they see on tv.
They are afraid of being embarrassed and are afraid the person may suddenly do something unstable, They may perceive their friend differently even to the point of being afraid of them. This is all due to stigma.
People are all individuals. People with mental illness are also individuals.
No two people with bipolar disorder are the same. They are unique individuals that you have to get to know to find out what they are like.
Nevertheless, a diagnosis of a mental illness can cause discrimination and a loss of opportunities.
It can cause problems socially and with our career. Once people find out you have been diagnosed with a mental disorder, they see you differently, even though you are the same person you were before the diagnosis.
The fear of the stigma keeps many people from seeking the help they need. It is understandable that people feel afraid.
The fact is that 1 in 5 people has a mental illness of some kind.
Thirty-one percent of adults surveyed say they would not seek treatment because they fear what others may think. NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness)
Approximately 20 percent of youth ages 13 to 18 experience severe mental disorders in a given year. For ages 8 to 15, the estimate is 13 percent.2
Approximately 1.1 percent of American adults— about 2.4 million people—live with schizophrenia. 3,4
Approximately 2.6 percent of American adults−6.1 million people−live with bipolar disorder. 4,5
Approximately 6.7 percent of American adults−about 14.8 million people−live with major depression.4,6
Approximately 18.1 percent of American adults−about 42 million people−live with anxiety disorders, such as panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), generalized anxiety disorder and phobias.4,7
THE FAILURE TO SEEK HELP FOR A MENTAL ILLNESS CAN LEAD TO DETERIORATION OF QUALITY OF LIFE AND IN SOME CASES SUICIDE.
Stigma about mental illness is a huge problem in America. As long as it is not dealt with, people will continue to suffer. Many of these people would be an asset to employers, schools and friends, if given the opportunity.
As a result of the continued stigma, people with mental illness often have a lower quality of life and a lower income potential than they should have.
There needs to be more awareness of this important issue. It is unfair discrimination in an age where almost everyone else is protected by discrimination laws.
NAMI is a grassroots organization that helps people and the families of people with mental illness. This is not a government organization. For more information about NAMI you can read this.