If you look up the word “Stigma” in a dictionary here is what you will find:
“a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.”
Mental illnesses also have a stigma, making it extremely hard for anyone to speak about their conditions or psychological/emotional struggles.
The problem with stigma is that it makes it increasingly difficult for anyone to seek knowledge about mental health, even hindering those in need of seeking treatment at times of need.
Stigma usually arises from certain misconceptions about mental illness which are mostly fuelled by culture and media. Discussing and refuting those misconceptions with accurate information is an effective way to change them.
Listed below are few of many commonly reported misconceptions:
1. Mental Illnesses Are Equivalent to Mental Retardation.
Actually, the term “Mental Retardation” is no longer used by mental health professionals and was substituted by the term “Learning Disability” because the older term was offensive and not scientifically accurate.
There is no such thing as retardation in the brain. Instead, some people might have some difficulties in learning new things.
No two fingers are of equal height.
Most of the people who might suffer from mental illness have average and above-average intelligence.
As it turns out, studies have shown high IQ’s to be also associated with various mental and immunological diseases like depression, bipolar disorder, and anxiety.
2)Mental Illness is a Punishment From God or Implies a Weakness of Faith..
As we should know by now, mental illnesses are just like any other illness. They have causes, symptoms and available treatment.
Even if you are the most religious person on the surface of this earth, you may still suffer from a broken arm, have a problem with your kidney or have depression or anxiety.
Any well-educated religion person will ask you to see a doctor if you are showing signs of mental illness.
The teachings of Islam heavily support scientific findings and do encourage the practice of psychology.
3)Mental Illnesses are Caused by Black Magic or Possession by Jinn or Spirits.
Causes and risk factors for mental illnesses are known and there are thousands of research studies and books that explain them in details.
Black magic and Jinn are not among the known causes of mental illness.
As unfortunate as it sounds – some people use religion as a cover to achieve some financial gains taking advantage of the lack of public knowledge about mental illness.
4)Having Anxiety Implies You Have a Weak Personality.
Does having diabetes or hypertension imply that you have a weak personality?!
Anxiety and other mental illness are just like diabetes and hypertension, they are not related to you’re the strength of your personality.
5)Mental Illnesses are Untreatable.
That what somehow true until the 1950s before the invention of the medications that are used to treat various mental illnesses but not anymore. In fact, the year of research has substantiated that those medications are very effective and sometimes even more effective than other medications used to treat physical illnesses.
Another factor fueling this misconception is that mental illnesses are rarely discovered at an early age due to the lack of public knowledge about their signs and symptoms – making their treatment more difficult.
6)Medications Used to Treat Mental Illnesses Cause Addiction.
A very common misconception in our society.
Hundreds of research studies on thousands of people state otherwise.
While studies have proven that most of the commonly used psychiatric medications are safe, most don’t cause addiction. On the latter, there are very few medications that may cause addiction with long term use but psychiatrists are usually aware of the addictive tendencies of the drugs; They usually rarely use them unless there are no other options available. Even then, they are only advised to prescribe them for a short duration.
7)People with Mental Illness Can’t Have a Normal Life/Job/Get Married.
Unfortunately, there is plenty of stigma and discrimination against people with mental illness because some people heavily believe in the validity of this statement.
Having a mental illness is like having any other illness, you can get treated and enjoy a normal life once recovered.
8)People with Mental Illness are Dangerous.
Yet another misconception leading to avoidance and discrimination.
In fact, those who suffer from a mental illness are no more dangerous than people who don’t, regardless of what type of mental illness they have. If anything, mentally ill patients might be vulnerable rather than violent or dangerous.
Multiple studies have shown that people with mental illness are 9 times more likely to victims of crimes rather than perpetrators.
The media seems to always find a way to lessen the severity of criminals through attaching a mental health label to offenders.
We can start to see how fatal how that effect is when it trickles down onto real patients who aren’t represented by the stereotype.
Written By: Dr Ali Khalil // Psychiatry Resident at Hamad Medical Corporation, Doha, Qatar
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