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ENG 102: Persuasion

Marlind Maksuti

Dr. Sean Homer

100110253

Fall 2014

The social stigmatization of the mentally ill


Mental disease has historically been associated with widespread stigmatization,
leading to an inherited culture of discriminating against them. Even today multiple
myths tend to circulate about mental patients usually regarding their ability to reason,
work, or interact normally in a social or work environment. This stigma also becomes
evident on the reluctance of a lot of patients and their families to seek medical help
when the first symptoms of mental disease appear (Stigma and discrimination.
Canadian Mental Health Association Ontario., 2014). In a lot of cases the disease is
considered weakness of character and the patients are perceived as violent or
incapable to be fruitful, even though the disease does not render them inept to perform
their job or daily lives. These preconceived notions are harmful to one of societys
most vulnerable stratums, and mainly are unbased on the reality of mental disease but
rather by myths and inaccuracies who fuel discriminatory behaviour. This behaviour
is also mirrored in the general populations over reaction in cases when a mentally ill
person commits a crime, or in pity when a crime is committed against them.
Interestingly it has to be noted that 46% of the general population suffers from some
type of mental disease during their lifetimes, including depression, anxiety, panic,
bipolar disorder etc (Ronald C. Kessler, et al., 2005).
From Kafkas Metamorphosis there are quite a few parallels that can be drawn with
mental disease in todays society. In the book can see pretty clearly the degradation of
Gregors social affluence, and the way society, symbolized mainly by his most
intimate circle, starts dreading Gregors existence. It was not only his loss in ability to
be productive, but also his lack of communication, atypical behaviour and scary
appearance (Kafka, 1915). All attributes that symbolize mental disease in a society
that does not tolerate these outliers. Mentally ill people differ greatly among each
other, some have lighter symptoms, on some the medication is working well, while
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some others react less to the chemicals or their disease might progress faster. Mental
illness is not also associated with incrementally increased violence, but rather with
individual cases displaying violent behaviour, in a larger mass of patients who are not
aggressive.
Except for a few schizophrenics who experience huge schizoid-paranoid mental
breakdowns, a considerable part of them live a peaceful and comfortable life due to
anti-psychotic medication like chlorpromazine, haloperidol and fluphenazine, which
block the dopamine receptors in the brain to treat the symptoms of the disease
(Cooper, Corrigan, & Watson, 203).
Social ridicule of mentally ill, or mentally challenged people has been frequently
observed in different forms. One of the most common, is bullying and deceiving
forcing these people to perform socially degrading acts in public. Another more
formal form of abuse is the misappropriation of their inherited property; or
misappropriation by relatives to their invalidity pensions. There have been a lot
documented cases of people being fired when their circle of colleagues got to know
the fact that the person suffered from a non-invaliding, non-violent mental disease,
solely based on the stigma and negative preconceived notions society nurtures toward
these patients (Mental illness stigma in health care settings a barrier to care, 2014).
It is possible though that a mentally unstable person becomes a risk to themselves,
their families, and society. Sometimes the symptoms of the disease cannot be properly
mitigated with the medicine, and a full psychotic episode, accompanied by delusions
and hallucinations might be triggered. In these cases a lot of patient will be unable to
reason, or understand the environment or interactions of others. In these panicked
states, the patient might be dangerous and should be closely supervised by
professionals that can help the alleviation of the condition. Other diseases render the
patient unable to be aware of his action and their repercussions, making them in some
cases dangerous in delicate situations. Another class of mentally diseased people are
psychopaths, who cannot be cured, or their lack of empathy stimulated; their lack of
emotion and empathy makes them dangerous if they have violent tendencies
(Martinez-Zambrano, 2013).
There have been cases of schizophrenics being violent, like the case of Nicola
Edgington who murdered both her mother and grandmother in two separate occasions
during her psychotic attacks. Psychopaths on the other hand have in their ranks the
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famous murderers Ted Bundy, Issei Sagawa and Jeffrey Dahmer, who mercilessly
killed a myriad of unsuspecting victims. Thus creating some basis on the social stigma
surrounding mental disease.
Now even though there are schizophrenics who suffer more often, and more violent
attacks, most of them can live relatively normal lives with medication that alleviates
their symptoms. Isolated cases of violence happen, but most patients with the disease
prefer to be left alone, they avoid contact, and live isolated lives. Schizophrenics pose
most of the risk to themselves and not to other people, with 10% of the affected
committing suicide within 10 years of the disease onset, even when treatment is
offered. In the same light 25% live completely normal lives after 10 years of
treatment, having good control over their disease and the side effects of the dopamine
blockers (Stigma and discrimination. Canadian Mental Health Association Ontario.,
2014). On the other hand a lot of non-violent psychopaths tend to perform better than
others in high risk/high stress jobs, becoming Wall Street traders, surgeons, CEOs,
lawyers and police officers. In a lot of instances these people live normal lives, they
dont even understand their lack of empathy or emotional response, but efficiently use
it in their daily jobs and life.
As a conclusion it is important to note, that mentally ill people frequently receive
unfair treatment in society, which embellishes them with untrue stereotypes and
generalizations. Even though there have been documented cases of violent mentally ill
people, in most instances if proper medical treatment and social support is received
they do not become invalids, and can work and be productive, have goals and live in
relative independence. Thus the over exaggerations and stigma, along with the legal
and social unfairness is something that needs to be addressed in a society that values
the wellbeing of all its components.

References
Cooper, A. E., Corrigan, P. W., & Watson, A. C. (203). MENTAL ILLNESS STIGMA
AND CARE SEEKING. Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease, 349-351.
Kafka, F. (1915). The Metamorphosis. Leipzig: Kurt Wolff Verlag.
Martinez-Zambrano, F. (2013). Intervention for reducing stigma: Assessing the
influence of gender and knowledge. World Journal of Psychiatry.
Mental illness stigma in health care settings a barrier to care. (2014). Canadian
Medical Association Journal, 186.
Ronald C. Kessler, P., Patricia Berglund, M., Olga Demler, M. M., Robert Jin, M.,
Kathleen R. Merikangas, P., & Ellen E. Walters, M. (2005). Lifetime
Prevalence and Age-of-Onset Distributions of DSM-IV Disorders in the
National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Arch Gen Psychiatry, 593-602.
Stigma and discrimination. Canadian Mental Health Association Ontario. (2014, 10
20). Retrieved from http://ontario.cmha.ca/mental-health/mental-healthconditions/stigma-and-discrimination/