Many people believe that individuals with a disorder cannot function in society, whether its school, work, or relationships. Individual attitudes, judgments and beliefs play a hug role in reasons for stigma, mainly towards people with a mental disorder. Mental disorders are health conditions characterized by significant dysfunction in an individual’s cognitions, emotions, or behavior that reflects a disturbance on the psychological, biological, or developmental processes underlying mental functioning, and are not considered part of normal development of an individual’s culture (American Psychiatric Association 2012). No one can be certain that there are direct stigmas, but the majority of individuals can identify with feeling a certain way towards those with disorders. It is speculated that there is a more negative than positive attitude towards the mentally disordered and may actually feel that way on an unreliable basis. In order to really understand the reasons behind this, we have to understand things like self-stigmatization and public awareness and knowledge. Key aspects, other than stigma, have to be understood in order to grasp the reasons behind negative judgments against others.
Stigma, as defined by Link and Phelan, is the co-occurrence of its components- labeling, stereotyping, separation, status loss, and discrimination-and further indicate that for stigmatization to occur, power must be exercised (2001). Power can come in many different forms, such as family, friends, media, and influential figures. Stigma is also most powerful when the disorder is considered as “severe” and is coupled with inappropriate environmental responses (ex. incongruous verbal remarks or erratic behavior) (Martin 2007). Stigma and its effects are distinguished into two forms, public and self-stigma. Public stigma perceives as individuals with a mental disorder as: being dangerous, being unpredictable, being difficult to talk with, having only themselves to blame, distrustful, being able to pull themselves together, an embarrassment, having a poor outcome and responding poorly to treatment (Crisp 2000; Martin 2007). In one study conducted through media influences, it was found that heavy exposure to the media’s version of mental illnesses creates not only misinformation about crime and those who commit crime, but generates intolerance towards individuals with a mental illness and negatively impacts the public’s opinion on mental health. Opposing this negative opinion, a companion study discovered that the majority of people with a mental illness never commit violent acts. Even though they are more likely to be the victim, the public overstresses their personal risk and the frequency of violence committed by individuals afflicted with mental disorders (Stuart 2006). It is this type of generalization that leads to self-stigma and distrust in those with mental disorders.
Everyone has a different reaction to stigma. Some use it to empower their actions and apply it to treatment, while others are not affected by the stigma at all. Some people, on the other hand, internalize that stigma, and it becomes like a disease all its own. Stigma results in lowered self-esteem and self-efficacy (Watson, Corrigan, Larson, Sells 2007). Self-esteem is defined as varied and complex mental states pertaining to how one views oneself (Bailey 2003), while self- efficacy refers to a person’s belief about one’s ability to perform a specific behavior (LudÄne). To experience self-stigma, the person must be aware of the stereotypes that describe a stigmatized group (e.g., people with mental illness are to blame for their disorder) and agree with them. These two factors, though, are enough to be classified as self-stigma. The third factor that has to be included is application. The individual must apply stereotypes to one’s self, “I am mentally ill so I must be to blame for my disorder”. This perspective represents self-stigma as a hierarchical relationship; a person with mental illness must first be aware of corresponding stereotypes before agreeing with them and applying self-stigma to themselves (Watson 2007).
The public can view a person with a mental disorder in two ways, either positive or negative. During our research we predicted that there will be more negative thoughts than positive thoughts as the public views a person with a mental disorder. As previously defined, mental disorders are health conditions characterized by significant dysfunction in an individual’s cognitions, emotions, or behavior. (American Psychiatric Association 2012). Mental disorders usually fall on Axis I of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual- IV (DSM). The goal of our study is to examine the public’s perceptions of mental illness and to determine how individuals with these mental problems recognize and seek help. Studies have shown that more than two thirds of people experience mental health problems. It is thought that lack of knowledge about mental illness, the stigma of mental illness, and ignorance about effective treatments play an important role in lack of treatment seeking. The study of public attitudes toward mental illness and persons with mental illness has mostly been the domain of mental health professionals, namely psychiatrists, psychologists, psychiatric social workers, academics in those related fields, and psychiatric programs directors and administrators. Deinstitutionalization, defined as replacement of long-stay psychiatric hospitals with smaller, less isolated community-based alternatives for the care of mentally ill people, and the problems associated with implementation of community-based mental health care brought mental illness into the public sphere. According to the survey results, a majority of Americans believe that the number of people with mental illness has increased over the past twenty years and that mental illness is a serious health problem in the United States. An impressive number of Americans report personal experience with mental illness and mental health professionals. Approximately sixteen percent of all survey respondents said that they have sought the professional services of a psychiatrist, psychologist, or other mental health professionals. Americans believe that mental illness is caused by physical disturbances (such as a chemical imbalance in the brain) or environmental conditions (such as the stress of daily life or alcoholism/ drug abuse). Survey responses reveal that a majority of Americans agree that maintaining a normal life in the community will help a person with mental illness get better and that with treatment, most individuals with serious mental illness can get well and return to productive lives. In addition, pluralities of Americans do not agree that mental health facilities should be kept out of residential neighborhoods or that mental illness can never be cured. Furthermore, the vast majority of Americans do not agree that “the best way to handle the mentally ill is to keep them behind locked doors.” (Bornstein 1992).
In conclusion, there is a lot of controversy over who has a mental illness and not, how people with mental illness should be treated in society, and if there should be locked up or not. Studies have stated that two thirds of people have a mental illness, but most will not seek help due to lack of knowledge or fear of being judged and labeled. This group of individuals lives healthy lives, have decent jobs, and most have healthy relationships. If these who have not labeled can, then some of the mentally ill that have been labeled should be able to also. But due to being labeled and judged they do not get the chance. If society as a whole would try to learn more about being mentally ill and how their judging and discriminating affects people with mental illness, society would work better together and the people who need professional help with their mental illnesses will no longer be fearful of being judged nor being locked up. Most Americans believe only people who have done something wrong should be locked up, but because of most mental patients being locked up in the past people are still fearful of this as being in their future if its known they have an illness. With knowledge and wiliness to be patient society can get lower the stigma and help reduce the fear of being ridiculed for being mentally ill.
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