It was merely just 30 years ago that society started recognizing and accepting an illness, which now affects billions of people all around the world, that we identify as mental illness.
It wasn’t until 1883 that German psychiatrist Emil Kräpelin published a comprehensive system of psychological disorders centered around a pattern of symptoms to help with the identification of mental illnesses. Nonetheless, this was met with a lot of negativity and it was still believed that mental illnesses were caused by demonic possession, witchcraft, or an angry god even in the 20th century. Such illnesses were treated with great hush-hush in public while doctors favored gruesome techniques like insulin shock therapy, artificial fever therapy, and electroshock therapy.
In 1792, the father of modern psychiatry; Philippe Pinel, a French physician, made his first bold reform by unchaining asylum patients from Bicetre, who had been restrained for 30 to 40 years. Pinel’s revolutionary methods resulted in lesser death rates among mentally ill patients. There have been many advocates that revolutionized the view on mental health; Dorothea Dix, William Tuke, Vincenzo Chiarughi & more.
“As we continue to advocate for adequate resources and services to treat and support those with mental health issues, we must also address the role stigma plays in preventing people from accessing those services,” says Wendy Burch, Executive Director of NAMI’s New York State chapter. More than 70% of people with mental illnesses receive no treatment, and stigma is a significant cause. Few individuals avoid seeking treatment due to superstitious beliefs while others fear the discrimination & prejudice that exists against people with mental illnesses.
This public stigma associated with seeking professional services contributes to self-stigma, where one labels themselves as unacceptable because of having a mental health concern. That internalized loathing poses a threat to one’s sense of self-esteem, regard and confidence & the public shame that comes along with it.
Social stigma around mental health in society also arises due to staunch beliefs in the negativity present in media that links mentally ill people to be harmful & dangerous or labels them as weaker individuals. There are compelling findings which indicate that along with stereotypical portrayals of mental illness in mainstream media, shameful perceptions of mental health issues also appear to have a negative impact on one’s mental health, like reduced hope, lower self-esteem, increased psychiatric symptoms, sticking with treatment, difficulties with social relationships & work.
All of this is due to the lack of understanding of mental disorders. So we should read about it, talk about it, and learn from the people who have an understanding of it. We need to start recognising and prioritising mental illnesses just like we do our physical health, to help people get the treatment that they need.
As the world’s scientific minds gather & share more knowledge on various mental illnesses, their diagnosis and proper treatment, there is a growing acceptance which did not exist before. People have started letting go of myths surrounding such illnesses and started seeking professional help. In 2005, a WPA Section on Stigma and Mental Health was created, with the objective to reduce stigma and discrimination caused by mental disabilities and raise awareness on how to seek help like therapy.
In recent years, celebrities and public figures have come forward to speak out about their own struggles with mental health issues. Speaking openly and honestly about mental health, and even just sharing personal experiences has resulted in a shift in public attitude towards this topic.
Furthermore, popular TV shows and movies like The Good doctor, One day at a time, Inside Out, Dear Zindagi & many more, have got people talking mental health online. Whether it’s through blogs, videos or tweets, candid conversations about mental illness can be found all over social networks on which we interact on a daily basis. Technology has played a major role in helping people get a grasp on mental hygiene, as it has created a platform for people all over the world to share their experiences, learn and help out one another as they get a sense of relatability which can cause one to take necessary actions regarding their mental health. Normalising such conversations is the right step towards educating & getting a better understanding of the importance of mental health.
Not only therapy but also just checking up on one another and having open & honest conversations can help everyone. The brain is a part of our body, so as much as we need a physical work up to check on our health, our mind also needs a mental health checkup from time to time just like the rest of our body. Maintenance is important, after all our brain is the most important part of our body!