Psycho No More: Breaking the Stigma of Mental Illness

Posted on May 17, 2010

When you call someone “crazy” or “psycho,” consider this: about one in six adults and one in 10 children have a diagnosable mental illness. The stigma that clings to mental illness (and the casual use of cruel language) makes coping especially difficult for those who suffer, and can also deter them from seeking help. We’re mentioning this to mark the middle of National Mental Illness Awareness Month, and to highlight a couple of programs that address the challenges and victories for individuals and communities who have struggled with mental illness and stigma. Mental illness is singular in a tragic way — the medical community has historically (and incorrectly) assigned blame for certain illness on its sufferers and their families — for example, autism was often blamed on cold or emotionally distant mothers from the 1950s through the 1970s (see Refrigerator Mothers, P.O.V., 2002). 

Such institutional failures have served to legitimize stigma in deadly ways. That brings us to When Medicine Got it Wrong, a new co-production of ITVS and KQED/San Francisco, distributed by the National Educational Telecommunications Association (NETA), airing on select public television stations this month (check local listings). It is a inspirational film about a brave group of parents who rejected the prevailing medical opinion in the early 1970s that their children’s schizophrenia was the result of bad parenting. They launched a grassroots campaign that radically changed the way society cares for and medical science researches and treats mental illness of all kinds. Stigma and discrimination almost always result from a lack of good information and too many false presumptions. Take a minute this month to reconsider your assumptions about the mentally ill. Watch a trailer for When Medicine Got It Wrong >>



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