Which is worse – the experience or the stigma of mental illness?

According to Beyond Blue, it is estimated that in 1 year, 1 million Australian adults will experience depression and 2 million will experience anxiety; that 45% of Australians will experience mental health problem in their lifetime; that; and that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men will experience depression.

However, anxiety, depression and sadness are only some of the difficult (or what I would call primary) emotions associated with mental illness. Those who experience it also have to deal with the stigma associated with mental illness, and with a range of secondary emotions associated – disgust, embarrassment, guilt and shame – associated with the experience of stigma. Erving Goffman described stigma as a discrepancy between a virtual and an actual social identity, where a person is “reduced in our minds from a whole and usual person to a tainted, discounted one.” Whether at work, home, school or in public, having to hide one’s condition – or suffer the indignity of being treated as a ‘tainted’ person – only compounds the difficult emotional experience of managing a mental illness.

Kathy Charmaz provides a critical sociological perspective to the problem, in arguing that our society sets up standards of normal health – a ‘core’ of healthy images and spaces – and expects people to either commit to a clear core (be consistently healthy) or accept a marginalized position outside of this (with an internalized, stigmatized, and shameful identity), but not to ‘pretend’ health or ‘exaggerate’ one’s illness, as those with mental illness are often suspect of doing. Gillian Bendelow notes that the great rise in pharmacological treatments over previous decades and that the use of anti-depressants is seen as the more socially conventional and acceptable approach to the ‘treatment’ of mental illness. Evidence of this can be seen in the fact that Australia now ranks second in the world in anti-depressant prescriptions.

Are more anti-depressants the solution? Davey and Chan (2012) challenge their effectiveness, and suggest that they should be increasingly used only in combination with psychotherapeutic approaches. However, this approach still individualises the problem, and does little to look at the social conditions and the stigma that compounds the experience of mental illness. Perhaps its time to move the focus away from the ‘core’ and towards the periphery, and do more to end the stigma associated with mental illness, anxiety and depression?

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2 Comments

  1. Beyond blue is a terrific organisation that assists people with mental illnesses and i definitely do not think that the solution to these issues is to dose up the level of anti depressents according to (Davey and chan) 2012 but rather delve into the fact of why the stats are increasing with people getting mental illnesses.

    Kathy charmaz points out a reasonable explanation on her sociological perspective about mental illness by stating how society set up standards of normal health and if we do not accept and go by other being healthy or a stigma of depression. I do not agree with this as there needs to be more awareness and support for those on the borderline and experiencing states of constant saddness and they get confused about this, this is being aware of your emotions and it is not okay to feel this way and seeking help should be available more.

    Erving goffmans statement is significant as it outlines the distinction between the ‘virtural’ and ‘social identity’. I think being individual ans accepting of of depression and mental illness should be outlined and accepted more and more help should be made on those confused about there emotions.

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