Twenty years ago, a friend of mine talked to me about a French writer who wrote a book about her struggle with mental illness and the stigmatization attached to it. After I had read the book myself, I wondered how, in a world like France, stigmatization of psychological disorders could still be a truth. The author was so scared of stigmatization that she hid her disorders from her own family and her husband, and traveled far from her town to see a psychologist. Her choice of the office of treatment was mainly based on the fact that the office was located in a non- attractive building tossed in a deadlocked alley in the far ends of town. She sneaked in and out of the doctor’s office as if she had been a medieval adulteress. The woman had been struggling with anxiety, paranoia, and traumatic stress disorders for most of her life. The struggle that had taken the biggest toll was the one against stigma which had stood before her and healing. If by the end, the gothic office and the Hitchcock-like therapist had miraculously turned out to be healing, it was a stroke of luck.
Yet, here we are twenty years later, in The United States, and a psychologically inflicted, still feels crippled by both self- stigmatization and social stigmatization. Self-stigmatization finds its roots in social stigma; a person who does not live in a society that does not stigmatize would not fear stigma to the point of self-labeling and stigmatizing. In the above mentioned case, the author did not confide in her mother or her husband because she feared their reactions. She also secretively sought help and had undergone agonizing terrors lest her neighbors and community would know for the same reasons.
The social stigmatization network in most cases is formed by peers, colleagues, family and neighbors; the ones in whom a person would want to find support. Knowledge deficit and misconception about mental illness can be one main cause. People who do not know much about mental illness might develop enough inaccurate information capable of standing between them and effectively interacting with someone with a mental disorder or someone they assume have a mental disorder. Narrow-mindedness and lack of understanding can result in open harassment and bullying that usually contribute to dire consequences on the patient’s health and the communities in which they live. A work place where unhealthy competition and rivalry prevail, colleagues can resort to the same behaviors used by high school bullies; premeditated stigmatization becomes a tactic to get rid of rivals and competitors by inflicting emotional distress on someone colleagues know has visited a psychologist or has been hospitalized for a mental disorder or simply because the person confided in good faith to another colleague that he/she has an appointment with a psychologist.
Mental disorders similar to other types of illnesses can either be radically cured or kept under control with the proper therapy and medications. Nonetheless, Stigmatization has become such a very big problem that the American Psychologist Association should consider adding it to its revised DSM-IV as another social or individual mental health impairing pathology in itself. A person whose sickness can be totally healed by psychologic therapy or by a combination of both therapy and medication finds himself or herself in prolonged therapy because of social stigma or relapses in worse psychological crises under the impact of stigmatization. Therefore, it is time the appropriate societal and official authorities took an action to fight and stop stigma gainst the psychologically inflicted. So, shouldn’t we stop’em?!