Sunday, 14 March 2010

Being Bipolar Part Four – Stigma

What is stigma? It is a subject with many aspects. Let me start off with a description from the UK mental health charity, Rethink.

Stigma is something judged by others as a sign of disgrace and something that sets a person apart from others.
When something like mental illness, disability or addiction, is stigmatised, the issue will often be avoided due to making people feel uncomfortable. People may even mock these things to make them less threatening.

For those living with mental illness, the stigma imposed upon them in society can lead to a lack of funding for services and public education, difficulty in finding employment, or in getting a mortgage, or even holiday insurance.

Ultimately, the silence and lack of understanding about mental illness encourages feelings of shame, and discourages people to seek treatment or even to admit that symptoms they may be experiencing may be related to a mental illness.

I guess my delay in blogging about stigma means that I don't have much to add on the subject. I do care about stigma and I try to combat it.

There is plenty of work going on to combat stigma. As a rule, more exposure in the media can help. That is as long as it is informed. Unfortunately, every negative story about mental health tends to increase stigma. It must be good if the general population are better informed about what mental illness is and about how common it is.

I think that mental health sufferers can get very isolated by their illness and this contributes to a different kind of stigma. They set themselves apart and are vulnerable to stereotyping.

Please feel free to add comments and describe your views of stigma.



  1. "I think that mental health sufferers can get very isolated by their illness and this contributes to a different kind of stigma."

    Well, depression tends to isolate people too but as symptom not stigma as sufferers very often feel drawn into themselves and experience great difficulty tolerating others. Sure, stigma might impact on the situation as well but avoiding the complexity of mental health issues doesn't help anybody. .
    Similarly, these days its more likely to be Government and partner providers like Rethink and Mind that are cutting back on local mental health services as stories of their 'modernisation' cutbacks and service closures feature in my google mental health alerts all the time.

    Holding stigma up as the main difficulty people with significant mental health issues face makes for great headlines but people still go on suffering with very little material help behind them.

    I realise you haven't prioritised stigma but it really has been left to people experiencing mental health issues to restore the balance here precisely because it is the Government and mental health service provider charities , read the system itself, placing so much emphasis on massively duplicated media campaigns that wag fingers at employers and the public but do very little to improve mental health care and material help locally for all the media attention and funding they get at national level.

  2. I was just talking with my pdoc about shame. Because of my seemingly never ending quest to find an antidepressant that works, I was starting to feel that it was my fault; which of course it isn't. And, like you point out, stigma is what keeps me isolated.

  3. Ok, I just commented on another part of this blog and continued reading. I have strong opinions about stigma. I think when I hear people say that mental illness is just as important as physical illness, I want to go full on manic crazy on them and have. I tell people all the time I have an illness. But I never call it a mental illness. When we separate one illness from all the rest, we stigmatize ourselves. My illness is a neurological disorder in an organ and is not an imagined abstract condition that changes my behavior. People can relate to the change in behavior when someone drinks too much or abuses drugs and understands it is a physical change. They can't seem to wrap their head around the fact that someone can be born with a physical, neurological illness that can change behavior as well. If we set it apart as different than we are seen as such and since it is behavior that is undesirable it's to be ashamed of. We need to stop calling it mental illness and refer to BP as a neurological disorder that needs treatment by a doctor who went to medical school, not a phd.


Please leave a comment. It is very much appreciated.