Understanding the Mentally Ill: Fighting Stereotypes with Facts
One of the worst things about having a mental disorder is the symptoms the mental disorder causes. These symptoms are the cause of much suffering for those of us who have received a mental health diagnosis. We face our symptoms every day, sometimes every minute of the day. They can cause us to see the world and the circumstances of life very differently than people who aren’t mentally ill.
Because we sometimes perceive things this way, we occasionally come into conflict with people. It’s often family who don’t comprehend our behavior, especially since they see us at our worst. Misconceptions can, and do, happen, frequently, on both sides. Of course, it’s not only we who misperceive. Misperceptions can lead to stereotyping, part of mental health stigma. Let’s look at some examples of these stereotypes.
Examples of Common Stereotypes of the Mentally Ill
Mentally ill people are lazy.
I can be lazy but I'm not a lazy person. Sometimes people mistake our inaction as laziness. I can understand coming to that conclusion when confronted by a person who lies in bed for much of the day.
But what they don't see are the things that cause our inaction. Depression saps both your physical and mental strength, sometimes leaving you a semi-lifeless pile of humanity whose best friend is the bed. If that's not enough, the diagnostic criteria for depression states the following symptoms, among others.
- Insomnia (inability to sleep) or hypersomnia (sleeping too much) nearly every day
Problems with the sleep cycle can really wipe a person out. There’s a reason sleep deprivation is used as a torture method. It just basically messes up everything. Our bodies have a cycle known as circadian rhythm. Basically, it means our bodies run on a 24-hour cycle. Research has shown disturbing this process to be detrimental to the health of individuals.
- Fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day
This is slightly different than disturbing the sleep cycle. This is the sapping of almost all strength from the sufferer. Things people take for granted, like brushing their teeth or taking a shower seem like colossal tasks that are nearly impossible to perform.
Additionally, although I haven’t done an exhaustive study, I'm not aware of any psychiatric medication that doesn't have at least some degree of drowsiness as a side effect, some more than others.
These are but a few of the causes of exhaustion and lethargy among the mentally ill. Given these circumstances, how can a person in this situation be fairly judged to be lazy? It’s almost ridiculous when all the facts are known, especially considering the multiple causes.
Given these reasons, we’re not lazy. We’re sick, medicated and completely exhausted.
Mentally Ill People Are Slow or Stupid
Some are so uneducated they think mentally Ill means intellectually inferior. It doesn't. However, there are certain symptoms that can make a person seem somewhat dull of understanding. Again, using depression criteria and criteria from several mental health conditions, let's see what might be responsible for this.
- Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness. (depression)
- Problems in concentration (posttraumatic stress disorder)
- Dissociation (obsessive compulsive disorder), (posttraumatic stress disorder), (dissociative identity disorder)
- Impaired cognitive functioning (bipolar disorder), (schizoaffective disorder), (schizophrenia)
Again, not an exhaustive list, but enough to explain cognitive difficulties and to respectfully suggest we not be judged to be imbeciles because it might take us a little longer to pick up on something.
Not a Stereotype, But Should Be
Mentally Ill People Are Extraordinary and Heroic
Considering these points, it’s amazing we’re not all drooling in a corner. But we aren’t, and this is why these stereotypes don’t hold up. Millions of mentally ill folks get up and go to work every single day. They take care of their children and pay their bills on time, all while suffering from the symptoms of their illness and from some of the stigma they must live with. If you ask me, these people are not only extraordinary, but heroic.
Ehrmantrout, M. (2014, June 25). Understanding the Mentally Ill: Fighting Stereotypes with Facts, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, August 20 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/recoveringfrommentalillness/2014/06/understanding-the-mentally-ill-fighting-stereotypes-with-facts
Author: Mike Ehrmantrout
Oh, by the way, please DON'T use the word "retarded". It is offensive.
Thanks for bringing that to my attention. Although I didn't realize that term had become offensive, upon research I learned that it is indeed considered an offensive epithet. It certainly wasn't my intention to offend anyone, nevertheless I did use the term and for that I apologize. You'll note I have changed the text of the article. Thanks again.