Stigma mental illness: Stigma associated with mental illness is probably as old as the civilization. There are references of discrimination on the basis of mental illness in almost all the ancient books of law. In the well-known Indian classic “Manu Smriti” or “Law of Manu” there are references to insane persons (unmatta) in the chapters related to marriage, inheritance, feast after death, rules regarding contract and appearance as a witness etc.the important thing to note, however, is that insanity is not being specially discriminated but is considered a kind of disability and mentioned along with other physical disabilities and socially or religiously disapproved behavior. Unfortunately, over the centuries the public attitude has hardened and had become more irrational against all types of mental disorders. As a result we find now gross discrimination against people with mental illness in spheres of life like job, housing, marriage immigration etc, thus greatly reducing the opportunities for the mentally ill for their full and rightful participation in the life of society. The mental health professionals are aware of the harmful effects of this stigma associated with mental illness. It interferes at every stage in the diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of all types of mental disorders.It forces people to avoid seeking much needed psychiatric help and grossly interferes in all efforts for their rehabilitation. Different illness cause different kinds of emotional reactions in public. Most of physical illness including a fracture or a heart disease or even cancer causes a feeling of sympathy for the victim. Some other communicable diseases like tuberculosis, or plague, cause fear of catching the infection from the sufferer. Still others like leprosy with its ugly open sores cause a feeling of disgust.Emotional reaction to mental illness is usually more than all these; it is perceived as something strange, mysterious and also dangerous. It is probably due to the difficulty in communicating with persons having mental illness and certain unpredictability about their behavior. Unfortunately, such discrimination is largely based on unfounded irrational misconceptions about mental illness. Though there are 10 different categories of mental disorders, public generally refers all serious mental disorders are mental illness.It seems that the maximum prejudice is probably related to schizophrenia. All common negative reactions associated with mental illness like fear, disgust, danger, violence incurability etc. are generally arising from public perception of schizophrenia. People assume that anyone who has received a particular diagnosis or receiving same treatment my manifest different kinds of symptoms. Even when the symptoms are the same, they may vary widely in their severity. In this connection, it is important to refer to the unfortunate role which cinema, TV or the press have played in perpetuating the prejudice against mental disorders.Mental illness is always shown as something to ridicule, something to laugh at, or something, which is bizarre, disgusting or frightening. The important question remains, how can we reduce this stigma associated with illness in the public? The question is important because how the medical services will be utilized by society. The answer to this question is not anything new. It is well known that root cause of all stigma, prejudice of all stigma, prejudice of all kind, is ignorance and lack of proper scientific.Perhaps the most important step in reducing this stigma is to reduce this closet mentality or the atmosphere of secrecy. Mental illness needs to be brought out in the open Psychiatrists, Psychologists and other mental health professionals, have been trained not to talk about their patients in public, but it is high time that those who have received psychiatric treatment and have recovered from mental illness should come forward and tell public how the misery of mental illness can be reduced or abolished by modern treatment.This will be a very important step in reducing the stigma. People must also be told creative persons have suffered from illness. Many highly creative persons have suffered from mental illness. Many outstanding persons have mental illness in their families. The mental health professionals all over the world are joining hands today to fight for the dignity of mentally ill. Let us once again resolve that no person and no family would be discriminated because of mental illness.
(Dr Tarlochan Singh is a Practicing Clinical Psychologist based in Ludhiana)
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