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STIGMATIZATION OF MENTAL ILLNESS

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Proceeding the recent Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, there have been neverending amounts of exposure and criticism towards the community of people with mental illnesses due to the shooter’s background being deemed “mentally unstable.” Much of this widespread criticism adds to the already existing stigma against people with mental illnesses.

 

Mental illnesses are psychological conditions best classified as disturbances in one’s behaviour and thought process. They are often divided into a number of subgroups, such as mood disorders, anxiety disorders, or substance abuse and addiction illnesses. However, the list is not limited to just these subgroups of mental illnesses. Just like physical illnesses, mental illnesses are conditions meant to be professionally treated to get better, just like physical injuries and disorders. They are more than “just feelings,” and they are not signs of weakness in a person’s character.   

 

There is a stigma promoted by popular media on mental illnesses and disabilities that perpetuates the idea that people with mental illnesses are inherently dangerous as a result of their illness. This stigma is highly sensationalized by media outlets, such as news channels, magazine articles, and movies that exploit violent stereotypes in the community. “I think mental illnesses are portrayed as something to be ashamed of [or] ridiculed by the media,” said Sophomore Lena Phan. “People on social media aren’t exactly educated in what a mental illness is and tend to make fun of them a lot [or] use them as a joke without thinking about how hurtful those words could be.”

 

In media, people with illnesses like schizophrenia or manic disorder are represented as psychos and lunatics: criminalized. Shows and movies like Wonderland, Psycho, and The Silence of the Lambs all portrayed a distorted image of the population of the mentally ill. By attributing their characters’ agitated, murderous, and psychotic tendencies to their mental illness, the mentally ill population is then generalized in the same fashion. There is a whole subgenre of young adult novels called “sick-lit” which deals with illness, death, and suicide.

 

Alternatively, mental illness has also been glorified and romanticized. A copious amount of young adult novels tend to make characters that have a mental illness brooding, mysterious, and someone who “just needs love” to be “fixed.” Many authors and producers tend to find navigating around the theme of mental illness as tricky because they have to be careful in how they depict such a technical topic. 13 Reasons Why is a book-made-into-a-movie that focuses on a teenage girl who commits suicide and leaves 13 films that explain 13 reasons that led to her committing suicide. With the recent release of the movie, a lot of controversies sparked on whether or not 13 Reasons Why romanticizes mental illness. While it may have depicted suicide and depression in a graphic manner, it was also the intention of the plot to scare viewers into realizing that suicide is not the answer to solving one’s problems.

 

Many teens also spread toxicity online by flaunting a mental illness and showing off as if it’s an accessory. “Most forms of media show depression as an immense sadness; however, depression itself is much more complicated. . .” Freshman Matthew Larragoitia said, “the inaccurate portrayal of mental illness in media and it’s romanticization causes the general public to see it as a ‘choice’ to be mentally ill.”

Matthew Larragoitia (freshman)

President Donald Trump once referred to school shooters as “savage sickos” in a tweet regarding gun control. In another tweet, he said that he would be “strongly pushing Comprehensive Background Checks with an emphasis on Mental Health.” Only 3%–5% of violent acts are caused by people who have a severe mental illness (Mental Health). Those with mental illnesses are blamed, stamped with the label of “psycho”, “paranoid”, or even “crazy” Having a mental illness can spur discrimination, verbal abuse, physical abuse, and even sexual assault.

Contrary to popular belief, not all people with mental illnesses are the violent monsters that the media portrays them to be. “Many people associate mental illness with harmful acts towards others,” Junior Natalia Guardado said when asked about what harm this stigmatization can do to people even without mental illnesses. For as long as the history of clinical psychology goes, mental illnesses have often played a taboo to the general public. Unlike people with physical disabilities who are sympathized with, how often will one see empathy towards those with severe forms of psychosis? How often do people sympathize with those who have schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, or even those with substance abuse disorders? It’s easy to isolate people when one is unable to see the root of the cause.

 Natalia Guardado (junior)

Although society has seen a consistent amount of progression in how mental illnesses are viewed, that does not take away from the fact that they are still demonized and romanticized. Articles, books, and movies like to make mental illnesses the justification for why an antagonist is the way they are. However, mental illnesses are far from being a choice. They are not the same adjectives people paste into a sentence to describe something abnormal to them. To say phrases such as, “I’m so anorexic because I’m skinny!” or, “I have OCD; therefore I have to organize all of my candies by color because it’s aesthetically pleasing!” only perpetuates the idea that mental illnesses are a choice or a flaw in someone’s character when it’s far from that. When asked about how mental illnesses are stigmatized, senior Rodney Sese said, “I do honestly kinda get uncomfortable when people say the word “autistic” to describe something that’s stupid.”

Rodney Sese (senior)

The key to lessening the stigma is developing a separation between the person and the mental illness. Mental illnesses do not define a person’s character, and they appear differently for everyone who has one. But they are not tools of pity; they are real illnesses that affect the lives of millions in the world immensely. “Rather than antagonizing everyone who has mental illnesses, we [should] look at the people who do commit these crimes,” sophomore Bryce Cook said. By blaming the mental illness for acts of violence in the community, that blames an illness that cannot be helped and takes away from the real matter of issue: the people that commit these crimes act out of hatred.

Bryce Cook (sophomore)

 

 

Works Cited

“NAMI.” NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness, www.nami.org/learn-more/mental-health-by-the-numbers

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STIGMATIZATION OF MENTAL ILLNESS