Monday, April 3, 2017

Stigma of Mental Illness- Based on Fact or Fiction?

From the Merriam Webster Dictionary

Definition of stigma

plural 

stigmata

play\stig-ˈmä-tə, ˈstig-mə-tə\ or 

stigmas


  1. 1a archaic :  a scar left by a hot iron :  brandb :  a mark of shame or discredit :  stain bore the stigma of cowardicec :  an identifying mark or characteristic; specifically :  a specific diagnostic sign of a disease

People can and do make negative judgments about others who have mental health diagnoses.

But, is it warranted? Well, in my experience, it's complicated.

The biggest issue I have run into is that I am treated like a textbook diagnosis list from the DSM-5 when I admit any of my diagnoses.

Why is that a problem? I have been diagnosed as having it, so they should be allowed to jump to that idea, right?

Well, no. I do not think the same way, or behave the same way as an untreated freshly diagnosed person with the same condition. 

Also, most illnesses in the DSM-5 only require a certain number of characteristics from a list to be present for diagnosis. That means you could meet 2 people with the exact same mental health label, who present their symptoms slightly differently even before treatment begins. 

There is also the level of severity to consider. One person's symptoms may be mild enough that it isn't usually noticed, another person's symptoms may be so intense and observable that it draws attention.

Think about this: Should a person who isn't currently following their treatment plan, or a person who refuses treatment be judged equal to a person who has followed through on every level of treatment and has been given the (at least temporary) status by their mental health team of "stable"?

How about treating someone who has had little to no symptoms for over a year the same as someone who has extreme symptoms that interfere with their ability to function at a normal level without supervision or assistance?

What if it was a physical illness? Say a person diagnosed with the flu hasn't had any medication and has obvious symptoms wants to take care of your child, would or should their request be treated the same as someone who was diagnosed with the flu 2 weeks ago, got treatment and is symptom free wanting to do the same?

That's the basic problem I have with the stigma attached to mental health issues, but that's not the worst part of it.

What's worse is the implication that having a mental illness is something to be ashamed of, like it's your fault. That's what is so insidious and harmful about allowing people to label and dismiss or punish people who need help.

It makes some people hide. It makes some people not ask for help until things are dire. It makes some people stop taking their medications. It makes some people desperate. It causes unnecessary pain and suffering.

Are there people with certain issues that would indicate a need for caution when interacting with them? Of course! And not all of those people have a mental health diagnosis to give you a heads up. 

If you have to judge someone, use the information in front of you. Evaluate their behavior you have seen. If you don't know for sure what their personal symptoms are, try asking. With compassion and the goal of understanding, or even better, to help them.