W2: social stigmas of mental illness

It is one thing to treat an illness and another to treat a patient. The root of any mental illness is the human suffering beneath. Just like how every culture varies with their perspectives, each patient also has a unique viewpoint on their own illness. Ones own viewpoints are critical to understand in order of treating ones mental health and also their own seeking of that help.

Everyone is aware of the tragedy and scare of Ebola, coming from Africa into the United States. People in America understood the illness and how serious it is, but what we did not see was the people of Africa and what they went through. As discussed in lecture 2, “explanatory models and interpretive theory: learning about health through ethnography,” western health workers came in and took blood in order to attempt to control the recent Ebola outbreak (Lecture 2.1). These workers came into their homes taking blood and then their families had to watch them die within days. Because of this tragedy, the way these individuals looked at blood in Africa was far away on the spectrum of what one at a doctor’s office might feel. This is a huge reason why looking at someone’s explanatory model and being sensitive to what they see is beneficial to both the person trying to help and the patient. It is important to see things through others eyes and understand their struggles.

Just like in the Ebola outbreak example, using ones explanatory model is critical in treating mental illnesses individually. Mental illness is very misunderstood and everyone automatically labels those people as dangerous. If one is aware of their illness, they are usually ashamed and embarrassed to seek help because of that stigma put on them. It is important to show care and empathy to those in need. People with a mental illness are challenged with the struggle of their symptoms and also societal stigmas. A huge thing to question is why people are sympathetic towards others with a physical illness but not normally mental illnesses, aren’t they both under the same category of an illness? I read in a world psychiatry journal, “unlike physical disabilities, persons with mental illness are perceived by the public to be in control of their disabilities and responsible for causing them” (Corrigan, 2002). Although the DSM would have believed that when it was first published through the influence of Sigmund Freud, the advancement of modern medicine changed those outlooks. Through research, mental illness is known to be a neurological imbalance of chemicals in the brain and out of ones control, but treated with medicine. The way each person looks at someone’s illness is adding stigma to that individual, and ending the negativity will be advantageous for everyone’s health. It is almost like a vicious cycle, the ones who don’t seek help are ashamed because of social stigmas and that results in furthering stereotypes for all, based on the ones who don’t restore their chemical imbalance.

Corrigan, Patrick W., and Amy C. Watson. “Understanding the Impact of Stigma on People with Mental Illness.” World Psychiatry. Masson Italy, Feb. 2002. Web. 12 July 2016.

4 thoughts on “W2: social stigmas of mental illness

  1. Hi Emily,

    I enjoyed your post because it touched on many of the important social issues regarding mental illness, or any kind of illness really. As you said, it is important to remember that the patient is still a person, not just a case study or the sum of a bunch of diseases that you are trying to cure. I think a lot of misunderstandings and misconceptions in regards to biomedicine, not just in the West but everywhere, are caused by a lack of transparency during treatment. Using the Ebola case for example, the doctors swooped in, drew blood, and left without any clear explanation. It’s easy to see why Western medicine could be looked down upon by people outside of our culture. Honestly, if a doctor did that to me here in the States, I would probably have an issue with it as well, and this is my own culture.

    Similarly, there are also a lot of misconceptions and misunderstandings in regards to mental health, which lead to various stigmas surrounding the people suffering from the disease. I, too, wrote about stigma in my post for this week. In Japan, mental illness is believed to be caused by a “weakness of personality”, so it’s hard for people to seek treatment, because not only are they suffering from mental issues, but they also suffer from social pressures including loss of employment, inability to secure housing, and the dissolving of familial and personal relationships. I can’t imagine why anyone would admit that they were “weak” and, according to the article I found, nearly 67% do not seek help.


  2. Hi Emily!
    I loved your opening statement “It is one thing to treat an illness and another to treat a patient”. I commented something every similar in my other comment to someone’s post. It is important to keep in mind that just because a certain treatment worked on patient A, doesn’t mean it will work at all on patient B, and could even make patient B worse off. The culture surrounding a person can often make or break the treatment necessary for them to get better. I think that is probably one of the most difficult parts of being in the medical field, especially a doctor, because you could have the perfect way to cure this patient but due to their culture, family, religion, etc., you cannot give them that treatment. This causes you to then think outside the box for other alternative, while during the time, your patient could be getting worse. I’m glad that you, and many of our other classmates, are bring up the stigma behind mental health. I hope that with our generation, some of the negativity towards it can change. With constant improvement of treatment and knowledge in general, I really believe that could be possible.

  3. Emily,

    I really loved your post because it beautifully captured the essence of mental illness: the individuals affected. While we try to find similarities and treat people similarly according to a particular formula, we forget that we have no idea how each individual experiences the illness (unless we, too, have experienced it, and even so we are unable to know exactly how they experience it). The discussion of lecture 2.1 was a good introduction into how different disease is to different cultures, and I think it’s important that we compare mental illness to physical illness because it helps us relate to the suffering better. It was also a good example of how physical illness can be so drastically different in other cultures. This makes it all the more important that we discuss the cultural implications of mental illness and how we treat them.
    In my blog post I discussed how patients in different cultures experience mental illness differently due to possible variances in religious beliefs (for example it may be shameful for someone to show anger and a patient with schizophrenia may think that the hallucinations know their anger and feel a lot of shame from this experience, leading to further mental instability). When we treat our patients, I agree with you fully that we take into consideration every component of their cultural makeup, as well as the biological that goes along with “western medicine”.

  4. Hey Emily!
    I thought comparing the outbreak of Ebola was very interesting and unique! That really is a unique outlook that I did not consider when writing about an explanatory model. You are right, especially what a region has been through is going to not only effect how they view a particular illness but also what they see appropriate for handling that illness. To people in Africa that have dealt with Ebola outbreak unlike most other regions in the world. Based on their experience, they may handle illnesses differently than other areas. I enjoy your comparisons!

Leave a Reply