Mental Health in Today's Society

Throughout history, people have viewed mental health differently than the way they look at other illness and wellness. Looking back into Christian history, suicide was seen as sinful and disgraceful (Hecht, 2013). Until 1700, the church referred to suicide as shameful self-murder (Minois, 1999). Although modern society doesn't explicitly punish those with mental illnesses, glimpses of the historical impact are still present in the language we use today. It’s not rare to hear people say the common phrase, “He/She committed suicide.” It’s a structure that’s nearly identical to the crime of murder: “He/she committed murder.” (Coming Soon: Language We Avoid)

This specific instance of language use is only the tip of the iceberg on how the language used around mental illness can shape the perception of society. The mentioning of mental illness in news and entertainment can also form the way individuals perceive a mental illness in real life. TV shows and films have attempted to portray individuals with mental health problems, but have sometimes fallen short in giving an accurate depiction (Coming Soon: Media Portrayal of Mental Illness).

For example:

In episode 16 of season two of the children’s show Lizzie McGuire (Inner Beauty), one of the main characters, Miranda, develops an eating disorder that involves not eating until she passes out (Written by Terri Minsky & Melissa Rosman). After her friends step in to help, her eating disorder seems to go away by the end of the 30-minute episode, never to be introduced again. Although tackling this issue within a children’s show is commendable, the way Miranda’s eating disorder is introduced and resolved perpetuates a belief that mental illness just goes away.

In a research study conducted between 2010 and 2013 by Parrott and Parrott, they found that mentally ill characters were continually linked with violent and criminal behavior. In truth, however, those living with mental disorders are more likely to be victims of violence rather than causing violence themselves.

A reduction in public stigma can greatly affect those with mental health problems. Many people who decide not to seek treatment cite the societal stigma as a factor into their decision. Although treatment can save an individual with mental health problems, the attitude and perception of mental illness in society keep many silent. Any work to decrease this stigma and create a secure environment for those with a mental illness will positively impact their lives and confidence.

How is Direct It fighting the public stigma? Read more about our fight here.

Print Sources

Hecht, J. M. (2013). Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Minois, G. (2001). History of suicide: Voluntary death in western culture (medicine and culture). Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Elizabeth CoxComment