Societal attitudes to mental illness: The need for change.

Essay by adeyemi00University, Bachelor'sA+, September 2004

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Mental (psychiatric) illness can be defined as a medical disorder whereby an individual experiences mild to severe disturbances in either of his or her thinking, perception, feeling (emotion) and behaviour, which can significantly impair the person's ability to cope with life's ordinary demands and routines such as ability to work, to get along with others, and to enjoy life. On the other hand, attitudes are our likes and dislike i.e. our favourable or unfavourable evaluation of and reaction to things including people.

The psychiatric literature is replete with studies of attitudes to mental illness and mentally ill persons. The results of these studies have always shown that the general public is generally inadequately informed about mental illness. The prevalent attitudes across most cultures to the mentally ill are therefore, negative irrespective of being literate or otherwise. These attitudes are usually based on unreliable, invalid, and unstandardized identification of mental illness, i.e.

stereotyped preconceptions passed from one generation to the other.

The sensationalized "popular" image of the mentally ill includes being dirty, bad, worthless and malevolent. The mentally ill persons are generally perceived by the public as violent, dangerous and unpredictable. As a result of these, they suffer the agonies of stigmatization, discrimination and prejudice by the public. In many cases, the people prefer to distance themselves from them. Research revealed further that, attributing ones problems to mental illness is associated with reduced subjective quality of life and lower self esteem. These negatively influence any effort to become a productive member of the society. The public will persistently use the label of "mentally ill" even when the designated person is engaged in many of the things taken for granted among "normal" persons of their age and culture.

Subsequently, these negative attitudes instil fear in sufferers of mental illness so that many...