Mental Health

Mandy Kloppers

Why mental illness isn’t talked about

Many years ago before you or I were born, mental illness was seen as possession by an evil spirit. People afflicted by mental illness were banished, outcasts from society.  In some instances, people in the middle ages viewed those with mental illness as witches or proof of demonic possession. The supernatural ideas did not stop there.

Mental illness over the years

Although there weren’t names for the symptoms back then as there are today, people were afflicted by the same conditions. The brain today is the same brain as it was back then and hasn’t evolved much. Many mental illnesses are caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

 

What was mental illness like in the 1800s?

In early 19th century America, care for the mentally ill was almost non-existent: the afflicted were usually relegated to prisons, almshouses, or inadequate supervision by families. In a wave of concern for the mentally ill, mental illness was considered as brain damage and ways were considered to help the afflicted.
After the Civil War this effort declined as the rates of curability had been overestimated and was costing too much money. Influenced by Social Darwinism, practitioners believed mental illness could be eliminated through eugenics. Although there were scientific advances, particularly in neurology, the tendency was to classify ailments rather than investigate through observation. Drugs such as chloroform, bromides, and ether were increasingly used to subdue patients.
Mental illness was poorly understood and in many ways, it still is today.

Has mental illness increased over the years?

Mental illness has risen in the United States, with about 20% of people in the country experiencing some form of it. It’s estimated that 72% of Americans use social media, according to the Pew Research Center. While social networking platforms have allowed many people to stay in touch with family and friends, research is showing that there are some downsides to social media—especially as it relates to mental health. Unhealthy behaviors associated with social media use include comparing oneself excessively to others and experiencing the fear of missing out (FOMO), per MHA.
That said, many studies have linked social media use to poorer mental health outcomes—especially among younger people. Research has shown that reducing social media use may have the opposite effect. A 2018 University of Pennsylvania study published in Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology found that college students who limited social media use for three weeks showed significant reductions in loneliness and depression compared to those who had unlimited use

How To Get Help

If you feel you need help with your mental health, reaching out to a healthcare provider is a good place to start. They can give you information on resources in your area and provide a referral to a mental health specialist if necessary.

Online counselling is easily accessible and can be done in the safety of your own home.

Get in touch with Mandy if you need support.

False beliefs around mental illness cause stigma. When people don’t understand something they tend to be more negative.

 

Stigma can lead to discrimination

Discrimination may be obvious and direct, such as someone making a negative remark about your mental illness or your treatment. Or it may be unintentional or subtle, such as someone avoiding you because the person assumes you could be unstable, violent or dangerous due to your mental illness. You may even judge yourself.

Some of the harmful effects of stigma can include:

  • Reluctance to seek help or treatment
  • Lack of understanding by family, friends, co-workers or others
  • Fewer opportunities for work, school or social activities or trouble finding housing
  • Bullying, physical violence or harassment
  • Health insurance that doesn’t adequately cover your mental illness treatment
  • The belief that you’ll never succeed at certain challenges or that you can’t improve your situation

Even some mental health professionals have negative beliefs about the people they care for.

Media can also play a part in reinforcing a stigma by:

  • portraying inaccurate stereotypes about people with a mental illness
  • sensationalising situations through unwarranted references to mental illness
  • using demeaning or hostile language

For example, if a part of the media associates mental illness with violence, that promotes the myth that all people with a mental illness are dangerous. In fact, research shows people with mental illness are more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violence.

 

Reducing stigma

Everyone can help reduce stigma about mental illness.

When negative stereotypes come up in conversation or in the media, you can actively dispel myths and educate people against harmful, inaccurate stereotyping.

Report examples of stigma you see in the media to SANE StigmaWatch.

Be mindful about the words you use when describing yourself or others, avoiding insensitive and hurtful words, and words which define a person by their condition.

Speak up when you hear people make inappropriate comments about mental illness. People living with mental illness should be respected and accepted just like everyone else.

People with mental health problems are entitled to the same rights and opportunities as everybody else. Challenge it if you see examples of discrimination or of bullying. Discrimination in the workplace against someone with mental health issues is against the law in Australia under the Disability Discrimination Act.