The Effects of the Mental Health Stigma: How the Mentally Ill are Criminalized, Discriminated, & Feared

By: Caroline Nice                                                                                                           13, April 2017

The mentally ill have been stigmatized since the beginning of time when they were thought to be supernatural, possessed by demons, and/or hated by God. Although they are not still physically chained to the wall or electrically shocked like they were back then, they are confined by society by a stigma that affects how they are able to receive treatment and are viewed by the public. It has been scientifically proven that these previously conceived notions and ideas about mental illness are not true, so why are the the mentally ill still being feared and mistreated? This stigma that has unfairly and illogically followed the mentally ill throughout time prevents those who are currently struggling from seeking help because they fear that the public, along with their family and friends, will view them as dangerous, unstable, and/or crazy. We can see the effects of society’s abusive mental health stigma by how the mentally ill are treated by doctors, policemen, and coworkers.

          Why is a mental disorder not treated the same way by doctors as a sickness or physical ailment? Both cancer patients’ and schizophrenic patients’ illnesses originate from dysfunctions within their bodies. However, the cancer patient is given the correct medicine and treatment to give him or her the best chance to heal, but the schizophrenic patient is not.  Family and friends look upon the cancer patient with love and remorse, showering the patient’s family with generous donations and meals, but view the schizophrenic patient with shame and disgrace. The schizophrenic patient is often feared by and disowned by their family. They are the topic that no one wants to discuss and are often handed off to a mental institution because the family does not know how to deal with them. Holmes refers to “a study published earlier this year in the journal Health Affairs that found that primary care physicians often neglect to follow up with their patients after a depression diagnosis and are less likely to help patients manage their illness” (n.p). Mental illness, which is a leading cause of suicide, takes lives just as many diseases do.  Why is mental illness not treated with the same urgency as illnesses and injuries, when “suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States” (Holmes n.p). More people die each year from suicide than they do from car crashes and various types of cancers, yet mental illness is casted aside by health professionals. Maybe our failure to properly treat the mentally ill is the reason why suicide is a leading cause of death.

          Not even the police are properly trained to deal with those who have serious mental health issues. “The mentally ill are 16 times more likely to be killed by police” (Reuters n.p). Lindsey Holmes cites an example of this in a Huffington Post article about “the case of Charles Kinsey, the mental health caretaker who was shot by police while helping a man with autism in Florida” (n.p). Officers in the nation’s largest police department handle about 400 mental crisis calls a day,” but only 5,000 of the 35,000 police are trained in Crisis Intervention Training (Associated Press n.p). Not only are the mentally ill mistakenly harmed by the police, but they are more often than not thrown in jail on a daily basis because there is no where else for them to go. In fact, there are more mentally ill individuals in prisons than there are in hospitals today. Most current prisons have a special section just for the mentally ill in order to accommodate the large numbers of mentally ill inmates they get. When there is not necessarily a way to keep mentally ill individuals in hospitals due to legal reasons and lack of space, the police arrest them for petty crimes and disturbances to keep them from harming others and themselves on the streets where they are homeless. Although the jail cell gives them shelter and keeps them from harming others, it opens them up to prison violence from guards and cellmates. These people should be receiving help in hospitals, not rotting away in jail where their condition worsening.

          In addition to the inequity received from the public, family and friends, and the police, the mentally ill also face discrimination in the workplace. Those with jobs fear coming forward about their mental health issues because they fear losing their jobs and or being negatively viewed by their coworkers and bosses. How is an alcoholic able to be trusted and respected by their boss and peers? When one’s boss figures out that alcohol has been abused on the job, which is often a fatal repercussion alcoholism, the employee is most likely fired.  More programs and benefits should be in place to help professionals with mental health issues by giving them paid leave if they are actively receiving treatment. “Approximately $193 billion dollars in earnings is lost each year due to serious mental health issues” (Holmes n.p). With this in mind, not only would supported mentally ill employees be beneficial for the individual, but also the company. The individual would be given space to recover without the stress of being fired, and the company would gain more productivity from that employee once they have healed and not lose near as much revenue.

           Stigmas have a huge cause and effect on the people they target. Claiming people, mentally ill or not, are “crazy” and “lunatics” have a far more lasting impact than just momentarily hurtful words. It greatly affects how friends and family, health officials, police officers, bosses and coworkers view and act around an individual.

       **Disclaimer: This is not “fake news,” but I may not necessarily agree the with extent of the position argued.

Works Cited

Holmes, Lindsay. “Let’s Call Mental Health Stigma What It Really Is: Discrimination.” The Huffington Post., 17 Feb. 2017. Web. 17 Apr. 2017.

“Report: NYPD mental health training needs better utilization.” Fox News. FOX News Network,  20 Jan. 2017. Web. 17 Apr. 2017.

“US mentally ill 16 times more likely to be killed by police, study finds.” Fox News. FOX News Network, 11 Dec. 2015. Web. 17 Apr. 2017.


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