The basics of mental health, stigma and ableism
Mental illness usually refers to a condition that affects our ability to function, affects our relationships with others, or causes us distress. It can affect the things we think and believe, the ways we act, and how we feel. There are several different types of mental illnesses and they are outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Disorders (DSM). There are different things that can cause a mental illness, including environmental factors, genetics, trauma, and more.
Mental illness is not a term that resonates with everyone, however. It is a term derived from the Western medical model of mental illness, which is basically the idea that mental health issues are mostly derived from internal, biological and chemical sources, rather than social and external. The term “mental illness” also treats all behaviours and experiences that deviate from the social norm as illnesses and disorders to be cured, which is not necessarily the case. Just because someone has experiences that differ from what society considers acceptable does not always mean they’re in distress or need to be cured. Other ways of conceptualizing human distress, experiences, and behaviours have existed before the medical model and the idea of “mental illness”, and continue to.
The stigma refers to beliefs we have about mental health or mental health conditions that are inaccurate and that hurt people. A few common stigmas include:
- people with mental health issues are mad or crazy
- people with depression need to “just toughen up”
- people who hear voices others don’t are dangerous or demon-possessed
- people with mental health differences belong in an institution for the rest of their life
- people with severe mental illnesses can’t have a normal, full, happy life like anyone else