The Stigma of Mental Illness

Mental illness is growing in many parts of the world. Busy lives, constant changes, and financial stress all seem to be contributing factors to this increase. Most of us know someone that suffers from some form of mental complication. This can range from mild anxiety to full-blown schizophrenia. There are many theories surrounding the increase in mental illness in modern times. The appearance of a mental illness can be overwhelming to deal with. Both the person afflicted and those that care about them experience major life changes. The stigma that goes along with a mental illness, however, can be just as difficult to deal with. Humans often point out or avoid people that are “different” or that have certain diagnosis. What does this human behavior say about our society?


Once reason why people may shun those with a mental illness is the age old theory of “survival of the fittest”. Humans, as a species, are hardwired to reject unhealthy members of the community. Survival of the species depends on the continuance of the best features of our species. Some mental illnesses inhibit the ability to function in a normal way, thus making survival in a less developed area more complicated. In ancient times, these individuals may have died off over time. The ability to perform daily tasks in a normal way may be compromised, thus truly making survival difficult. This eventually leads to minimal genetic markers to continue the hereditary features of their illness. Rejection, unfortunately, leaves people isolated and often causes even more mental problems.


Different cultures perceive mental illness differently. There have also been great strides to make communities aware and tolerant of those with mental illness. It is becoming more acceptable to have some form of anxiety or depression. This may simply be because of the overwhelming number of people that experience these problems. The stresses of modern life take a toll on many people.

Culture, however, also dictates how people are treated and cared for. Some cultures in less developed areas may actually be more tolerant of those with differences, simply letting them be. In one village in Africa, the community comes together to feed those with mental illness. They see these individuals as different, but care for them as a community and accept them for who they are. More developed nations seem to hold on to higher ideals and are often less tolerant. This behavior is apparent even in schools with very young students.  Children who do not fit in may be taunted or bullied.


Treatment can be difficult to come by in areas that do not tolerate mental illness well. The best treatment centers are those that embrace the various states of mind that people may experience, trying to gain more understanding. Many disorders are being treated with advanced behavior therapy methods and better nutrition. Medication may be the only way to keep many patients stable, however. The stresses of modern day life are taken into consideration much more than they were in the past. This helps everyone to be more understanding, as most people have experienced shifts in their mental states in response to life stressors.

Human Responses

Research has found physical differences in the brains of many mentally ill patients. For some reason, the acceptance of mental illness as a physical impairment makes it easier for people to accept. If some says they have depression, they may be perceived as damaged or strange. If a person states they have a chemical imbalance in the brain, however, people respond much differently. There still remains the fact that responses to mentally ill individuals are often negative. As a result of mental illness many people may never marry, have children, or lead active social lives. These complications may be due to limitations that are caused by symptoms or by the actions of peers. Negative responses are a major part of the stigma of mental illness.

Mental illness comes in many forms. It can be mild, allowing individuals to function at a higher level. Severe mental illness, however, may completely inhibit normal activities. Even those with a mild affliction may stand out as “different’ to an average peer group. The ability to pick up on subtle differences is a part of human nature. Various cultures may also dictate how the mentally ill are treated in certain societies.  Increased awareness is an important step in removing the stigma of mental illness.

Editor's Picks

Lee has one of the most genuine smiles you have ever seen. His warm smile, and friendly personally give evidence of just how much joy he finds in his research. He has worked on numerous projects, which seek to learn more about terrible illnesses, with the hope of learning how to eradicate them altogether. Lee is also a huge basketball fan and is often found shooting hoops whenever he is not buried in a pile of books in his lab. He also makes time to coach at-risk youths and finds ingenious ways to remind them of the beauty of science even while they play around.

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