The Effects Of The Stigmatization Of Mental Illness On The Society

Although mental illness is common, it affects 1 in 5 adults every year (“Mental Health Numbers”) and is very common. However, today’s society isn’t well-versed in its effects. Many people don’t understand mental illness, its symptoms, or the characteristics of people who have it. The stigmatization associated with mental illness is a result of this ignorance. Public stigma refers to the perception that society holds about mental illness, while self stigma refers to the prejudice that individuals with mental illness have against one another (Corrigan & Watson). Both types of stigma can be harmful. Self-stigma could lead to self hate and insecurity. People with mental illnesses can be stigmatized by the public. This can lead to prejudices, misinformation, and discrimination. The stigmatization of mental illness by society can be in many forms, often with disastrous results for individuals who have it.

Mental illness is often stigmatized in today’s society. In movies and on television, mental illness is often portrayed as something to be worried about and dangerous. Wonderland, which aired on TV in 2000, shows a schizophrenic man shooting and stabbing a pregnant woman (Tartakovsky). The Maniac Cook was a 1909 movie about a violent, dangerous mental patient. American Psycho perpetuates stereotypes that psychotic people are homicidal killers. Split was the 2017 movie that featured a dissociative identity disorder (also called DID or Multiple Personality Disorder (MPD)) as the main villain. It is shocking that mental illness is depicted in this manner in television and movies. The negative image of mental illness is also reflected in the news. John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health reports that 20% of American adults will suffer from some kind of mental illness. However, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health researchers found that nearly 40% of the news stories about mental illnesses (Violence with Mental illness) are linked to violent behavior towards others.

Additionally, news stories often use “psychopathy”, “psychosis”, and “psychopath” interchangeably. “Psychosis” refers specifically to psychotic mental illnesses, while “psychopath,” refers to someone who has violent and antisocial tendencies; psychopathy is not always caused by mental illness. Professor George Gerbner claims that television has a “specific and measurable impact on viewers’ perceptions” of reality. Shewmaker. Gerbner spent nearly three decades studying television and the effect it had on viewers’ perceptions. Gerbner used “resonance” as a term to describe the “increased likelihood of having certain life experiences more often than they are because of viewing media.” This was despite the fact that there were many variables such as race, gender, age and socioeconomic status. Gerbner found that television has a significant influence on people’s perceptions and opinions of the world.

Negative portrayals or people with mental illness are often the worst exposure people have to mental illness. These people often don’t realize that the depiction of mental illness is false. Because they don’t know the truth, they believe the stigmatization and myths perpetuated by television and movies. This harmful and flawed view on mental illness is reinforced in our society by more people believing it. It can lead to misconceptions, misinformation, discrimination and stereotypes that are harmful and infected with mental illness stigma. There are many myths surrounding mental illness. Cheryl K. Olson is a ScD. According to her research, “Research suggests mental ill people tend to be victims more than perpetrators.” (Tartakovsky).

To be precise, they are more likely to commit violent crimes than the general population. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that only 3% to 5% of violent crimes are committed in the United States by people suffering from severe mental illness. Even though they are not more violent then the rest of society, mentally ill individuals are often stigmatized as “violent killers”, and “crazed lunatics”. Another myth is that teens with mental illness are just passing through. Two movies, “American Pie” & “Heathers,” perpetuate this myth by showing teens drinking/substance abuse as well as depression (Tartakovsky). “Thirteen,” depicts a main protagonist who doesn’t seek professional assistance despite self harm, substance abuse, an eating disorder, and other issues (Tartakovsky).

People might dismiss teenagers for bringing up their mental illness. They may also think that they are weak or lazy. Mental health problems can result from many factors. Mental illness isn’t just a mental condition. It can also be a physical alteration in brain chemistry and brain function. There is no cure for mental illness. One myth that mental illness perpetuates is that it doesn’t get better.

Monk portrays the main character as having Obsessive Compulsive Disease (OCD). Although his portrayal of OCD is positive and accurate, it never gets better despite him attending therapy (Tartakovsky). Otto Wahl Ph.D, University of Hartford Professor of Psychology believes that depictions only perpetuate the misperception that treatment and therapy are ineffective. Studies have repeatedly shown that people suffering from mental illness can improve their lives or even fully recover from it. The treatment can be either medication or therapy.

Even serious disorders, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, can be successfully treated. Individuals with mental illness are able to function and contribute to society (Tartakovsky). Even if mental illness is severe, there are ways to improve the quality of life for people with mental illnesses. Mental health stigma is a major factor in society’s perception of mental illness.

People with mental illnesses are often stigmatized. This can have devastating and sometimes deadly consequences. The General Social Survey (GSS), conducted a 1996 study that administered the Mac Arthur Health module to 1444 Americans. It found that more than half of the respondents would not allow their family members to marry or work with anyone with a mental disorder. The discrimination also affected how people with mental illness should be treated. Participants believed that schizophrenia patients should be forced to receive treatment. However, recent research has not shown any efficacy in forcing mental health treatment (Corrigan & Watson).

A majority of people believe that those with severe or serious psychiatric disorders should be kept in mental institutions (Corrigan, Watson). Asylums and mental institutions have been known to abuse their residents and commit other atrocities. People being forced to enter them could be dangerous for their mental and physical health and even cause death. People with mental illness are more likely to be denied employment, affordable housing, and good jobs (Corrigan & Watson). “Overcoming Stigma” also shows that stigmatization can affect their ability to find and maintain these things. It can lead to harassment and bullying, insufficient understanding from family, friends, and coworkers, as well as a lack of insurance that fully covers mental health treatment. Many of the effects are internal and directly affect those with mental illness. Mental illness patients are often affected by low self-esteem or a negative self-image.

Patrick W. Corrigan of University of Chicago Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation & Chicago Consortium for Stigma Research along with the National Center for Biotechnology Information claim that people with psychiatric impairments will adopt stigmatizing thoughts and believe they are less worth because of it. Corrigan-Watson found that self-esteem and confidence can suffer, as well as one’s outlook on the future. Research has also shown that self-doubt or fear of being rejected by others can cause people to turn down life’s many opportunities (Corrigan, Watson).

Corrigan defines “low self efficacy” as “the expectation that you can successfully perform a particular act or behavior under specific circumstances.” (Corrigan). Mental illness stigma can lead to people with mental illnesses avoiding professional treatment or not seeking it. It was found that only 40% of those with mental illnesses received treatment in 2012, despite significant improvements in accessibility and quality (Corrigan Druss and Perlick). It is still a significant fraction of the 24.3% individuals with severe mental illness who sought help in 1990 (Corrigan Druss & Perlick).

Many people who seek treatment do not complete it. About 20% of patients abandon treatment before the end of their treatment, and 70% of them quit treatment within three visits (Corrigan Druss, Perlick). A nationwide survey was conducted by the Schizophrenia Patients Outcome Research team in 1998. The results showed that less than half of those surveyed reported receiving psychotherapy treatment. Only 10% received intensive case management. An analysis of 34 studies showed that nearly 40% of antipsychotic patients did not adhere to prescriptions. This is often due to stigma, both self and public. Stigma can make it difficult to feel brave or motivated to seek help. However, stigma can have serious consequences. Mental illness, especially if not treated early, can be made worse by shame, guilt and embarrassment. These can lead often to suicide attempts or feelings of helplessness.

The National Alliance on Mental Health, each death by suicide leaves behind more than 41,000 people. This leaves thousands of loved ones and friends to grieve the loss. Suicide is the 10th-leading cause of death for adults in the U.S. as well as the 2nd-leading cause of death for people aged 10-24. These rates have been increasing since then (Risk of suicide). Suicide risk is reduced when people at highest risk seek help. Unfortunately, this can be difficult to do due to stigmatization of mental illnesses.

Although mental illness is quite common, the majority of people have limited knowledge about it. A lack of understanding about mental illness and the implications for those who are suffering from it has led to stigmatization in many forms. People with mental illnesses often experience stigmatization that can lead to shame, embarrassment or avoidance of necessary treatment. Some even resort to suicide.



Kian Stafford is a 39 year old educational blogger and school teacher. He has been teaching for over 10 years and has worked in a variety of different positions. Kian has an extensive knowledge of education, both online and in-person, and has written extensively on education topics. He is also a member of several education organizations, and has been involved in many educational initiatives.