How mental illness stigma affects social relationships
Mental illness is a peculiar issue from many perspectives. Firstly, mental illness does not show itself up very easily unlike a physical injury. Secondly, since it concerns the human mind, the most complex of all creations, its condition keeps varying according to the situation around the person having a mental illness. Thirdly, and most importantly, it is characterized by a very strong reaction from the society, or what we call stigma, around it, which is almost never the case with people who suffer physical illnesses, expect maybe AIDS.
The third factor among the ones listed above affects people with mental illness very profoundly. Not only do they have to cope with the problem per se but have to be constantly worried about having to face society’s reaction all the time.
Stigma is bigger than the problem
At the root of the stigma associated with people with mental illness lies society’s terrible misperception that these people are violent and dangerous. Nothing could be more distant from the truth than this. In fact, almost exactly opposite facts contradict this perception: The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) clearly states that people who have mental illnesses are ten times more likely to suffer physical violence than people without it. This is the highest and deepest problem that those with mental illness suffer from.
Are people with mental illnesses more violent than the others?
It is worth examining whether people with mental illness are more violent than others since the society in general seems to be highly opinionated in this regard. A study by the respectable BMJ Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health analyzes how people who have this perception are clearly wrong:
o The highest levels of violence ever committed in history in the form of genocides, which result in incomparably higher killings than those committed at the micro level by individuals, have been carried out by people with no mental illness
o Only people suffering from one kind of mental illness, schizophrenia, were likely to be more violent than others, that too, by a negligible margin of four percent. This study points that even if these cases were to be completely isolated and shut off, 96 percent of the violence would continue to happen. Also, when one looks at schizophrenia affecting a small part of the population with mental illness, the figure comes down even further
o There is gross generalization among the lay public about mental illness. Even educated people get influenced by media portrayals of people with mental illness as being violent.
Consequences of having to face social stigma
Obviously, there are some very serious consequences of the social stigma associated with mental illness. Living with the social impact of the stigma of mental illness is the most difficult part of the problems faced by people with mental illness. They have to live in society like everyone else, but when society itself decides to treat them this badly, to the extent of perpetrating a far higher degree of violence on them than on others, it opens the way for the most difficult social stigma that they have to face. This is what makes their situation very difficult.
The social impact of the stigma of mental illness hurts them badly. These are some of the ways by which the social impact of the stigma of mental illness affects people suffering from them:
They are victimized violently
The study by BMJ points to the fact that people with mental illness are up to 56% more likely than other people to suffer violent victimization. Many of their behaviors are assumed by people to be dangerous and hence, they are treated this way. In addition, if anyone in society is aware of their history of mental illness, they are targeted even more.
They could resort to drugs and substances as an escape route
When society treats them negatively, it is but natural for people with mental illness to resort to drugs and substances because these provide an easy escape route for them. This fuels their budding violent nature further.
They could suffer from unemployment
Many organizations behave towards people with mental illness the way society does: showing complete ignorance. Most organizations are reluctant to employing people with mental illness, even if they are under treatment or have completed it. Organizations thus exacerbate the issue by not going fully into the problem aspect of those with mental illness. If they could become more open, they could solve a major problem, because like drugs, unemployment too aggravates mental illness.
Their social relationships suffer badly
Does it surprise that people with mental illness have major problems in adjusting with society? Whether it is their condition or the society’s attitude towards it that is responsible for this situation is open to debate, but one fact that can be said with certainty is that people with mental illness have a difficulty in living in, leave alone mingling with society.
Maladjustment with society
Another of the social impacts of the stigma of mental illness is that these people are generally socially maladjusted. Their participation in social events is considerably lesser. This leads to a further deterioration of their relationship with people. As a result, they suffer lack of dignity, lack of acceptance and low self-esteem.