The Dangers of Stereotyping and Mental Illness

The stereotyping of class and gender, in regard to mental illness is dangerous. Anonymous counseling hotlines that disguise gender and age, as well as class since the person is not visible, are easily attainable, and would hopefully allow more people to reach out for help. Anonymity would also keep anyone from receiving lower quality treatment.

The Dangers of Stereotyping and Mental Illness

Fear of Mental Illness

In society, mental illness is not an acceptable thing, it is feared. There are “pejorative terms” for things related to psychiatry and mental illness, for example, “… ‘loony bin’… [and]… ‘headshrinkers.’”(“Social Class”). People are afraid of psychiatry and many believe it all to be bogus.

Because of that they don’t recognize the symptoms of mental illness and likely wouldn’t receive treatment for mental illness if they needed it. In a study where someone was described with the symptoms of depression (50% of the time a female and 50% a male), those, “Who held negative attitudes towards psychiatry and science felt that both Kate and Jack’s symptoms were less than distressing, more difficult to treat, and less worthy of sympathy or professional help” (Gardner ). These people did not see a problem with the symptoms of severe depression. This could very well keep them from getting help or even their loved ones.

Personally, I have struggled with anxiety for a long time. When I had an increase in the symptoms my freshman year of college, I finally got help. I either didn’t recognize the symptoms as abnormal, or I didn’t want to because of the negative stigma.

Treatment of Mental Illness and how it is Affected by Stereotypes

Mental illness is be treated differently among different classes. Personally, I was terrified to have a doctor do this to me. I didn’t want to be perceived as just being a whiny little “first class” girl looking for attention instead of someone who really needed help. Sometimes, I even had trouble believing that that wasn’t the case.

While, “Physicians have deeply ingrained egalitarian ideals with their fellow citizens, yet they, too may make subtle, perhaps unconscious judgements of the differential worth of the members of our society” (“Social Class”). When the Titanic sank the, “passenger’s class status… determine[ed]… whether he survived or was drowned” (“Social Class”). Unfortunately, the lower the class, the less that survived, some were even forced to stay on the boat. This is absolutely terrifying, in a life or death situation, those in control can determine who is worth saving.

Mental illness can be just as much a life and death issue as drowning is. So the fact that psychiatrists can diagnose and treat patients how and when they choose is scary. Even if they don’t intend to discriminate, they can. In a way, they have to decide who is worth their time and attention and whose life is more valuable. They could decide that someone in class V (lowest class) doesn’t get the good quality intensive therapy that people in class I (highest class) would receive. But, I also think that it can be the other way around. That people that are better off can’t have these problems.

Change in Treatment Methods because of Class

This really does happen.

There are patterns in which mentally ill patients, “ in class I and II [go] to see psychiatrists in more gentle and “insightful” ways than is the practice in class IV and especially in class V where direct, authoritative, compulsory, and at times, coercively brutal methods are used.” While it makes sense that, “…the higher the class, the higher the percentage of disturbed patients treated by private practitioners…” and “…the lower the class, the greater the proportion of patients treated in public agencies…” (“Social Class”) simply due to the expense, it isn’t fair for patients of different classes to be treated differently by the same psychiatrist.

If the patient could receive help without being judged by their appearance (which is often a quality of a person that is affected by class) they would receive significantly better treatment.

Accessibility of Treatment

The expense of psychotherapy itself doesn’t allow the treatment many people need. Some people can afford to go to the private facilities, but people in, “class IV uses the state hospital as a treatment center as well as a place for custodial care. The state hospital is the one psychiatric facility available to class V persons who have become so disturbed that they have to be separated from the community” (“Social Class”). People in classes II and III are only sent here as a “last resort,” when their families have burned through their savings with the private facilities (“Social Class”).

Some may point out that there are free suicide hotlines available all over the country, however, this isn’t entirely anonymous. Often times, volunteers work these lines and can still hear the true voice. They can figure out gender, or they might even know you. While these hotlines are great, the technology we have now could easily make this service even more anonymous. This again would allow fair treatment.

Gender and Mental Illness

Gender also plays a part in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness. However, this isn’t traditional: “Psychologists also say they have identified a more subtle level of sexism than the traditional bias” (Goleman). There are many layers to this issue.

Remember the study about the two people, one male, one female, suffering from depression? When given these descriptions, 57% of people recognized Kate’s symptoms, 10% said she didn’t have a problem while 52% recognized Jack’s, 21% said he didn’t have a problem ( Gardner). The gap between 57 and 52 is not that bad, and part of that could be lack of knowledge, but look at the increase in people who said that there was no problem. Over double the people said Jack didn’t have a problem. Why is this? Is this because he is a man? “Men are expected to be strong, deny pain and vulnerability…” so many believe that they either do not have a problem or believe that, “pulling themselves out of depression is something they ought to be able to do” (Gardner). Unfortunately this stereotype has immense consequences, the suicide rate of men is 4-5 times higher than that of women (Li). “Men themselves were less likely than women to label Jack depressed-a pattern that was not seen with Kate” ( Gardner). This is likely because of the belief that men should be able to fix themselves without help, that “independent minded streak”(Gardner).

Women are usually diagnosed with depression more often than men. In fact, “Depression is twice as common in women” (Gardner). But is this really accurate? This statistic cannot be accurate when many men refuse to admit their problems while “…women are generally more attuned to emotions and better at articulating them,”(Gardner) and therefore more likely to be diagnosed. According to research done by New York Times reporter, Goleman: “Women are twice as likely to be diagnosed as depressed as are men”. Rather than the depression being more common, the diagnosis of depression itself is more common.

Misdiagnosis Due to Gender Roles

Stereotypes can go the other way around, though. When, “men and women…deviate from traditional roles…[they] are often seen as suffering a mental illness,” and treated as such (Goleman). This doesn’t mean they do or don’t have a mental illness, but because they aren’t how they are “supposed to be”, they are assumed to be mentally ill.When a man is struggling with symptoms that appear to be mental illness, often times excuses are made, rather than a diagnosis.

For example, in a study, “When the man said he was an engineer, the therapists related his problems to such factors as pressures at work, problems in his marriage or with his children or biological causes” (Goleman). In women, there is the problem of more and more cases being supposedly solved with, “medication, to treat problems like depression in cases where the main causes are distressing circumstances” (Goleman). Another issue in treatment of women is, “for the therapist to dismiss the women’s anger, or to see it as a symptom rather than an understandable response to a grim situation” (Goleman).

So, with women, it is assumed to be depression or a disorder similar to that, but with men excuses are made. So neither gender is receiving what they need. The women need to be heard and to talk out their issues, not sedate them, unless it truly is a disorder. And men need to be told that what they are feeling isn’t normal and that they should look for help. And that it is perfectly okay to look for help.

Science and Bias

The scientific descriptions of certain disorders can have a bias for what gender is diagnosed with it. For example, “sexual promiscuity seem[s] more flagrant in women” (Goleman). Similarly, “the description of hysteria, ‘is written in a way that almost guarantees giving the diagnosis to women only.’” This can seriously skew a psychiatrist’s perspective. As much as they try to be fair and unbiased in their diagnosis and treatment, if the description of a disorder seems to apply more towards a female or male this could cause them to misdiagnose someone or even send someone off believing nothing to be wrong.

“One-Dimensional” Teens

A journalist was asked to write about some kids at boarding schools for “troubled teens.” This journalist, Marcus, avoided the topic like it was wild fire, he really did not want to write about it. He explains that he “didn’t care about a bunch of spoiled rich kids who drank too much or snorted too many drugs. Nor did [he] care about their self-involved, absentee parents…”(Marcus). But then he finally went to learn about these kids and, “ [he] met kids who didn’t fit [his] stereotype” (Marcus). Marcus realized that even though these were just teens, they had a lot more to them, and it still, “ takes months to understand people-even those who have lived for only 15 or 16 years” (Marcus).

Many people had commented to Marcus about how “one-dimensional” these kids must be and how bored he must be (Marcus). This is what Marcus expected, but he found this to be quite different. These teens were real people with real problems. Often times, people who have money or are at a school like this are assumed to be spoiled or just stupid. They cannot have deeply rooted problems with depression, anxiety, or other disorders. But this is false. Of course, teenagers are not incompetent, so it is likely that they are aware of this stereotype and are now of course, less likely to reach out for help. While it can be a trendy thing to be dealing with an issue, speaking from experience, many teens really do need help but are afraid of reaching out for it for fear of being laughed at. For fear of being blown off as dramatic. For fear of not being heard.

What Now?

The dangers of mental illness and the stereotyping of class and gender are very real. This issue needs to be taken off the back burner and dealt with. Something such as anonymous counseling hotlines that disguise gender and age, as well as class since the person is not visible, would allow more people to reach out for help. Anonymity would insure that people would receive the best help possible. Marcus’s “trouble teens” could be helped without fear of being perceived as dramatic. Men could reach out with symptoms of depression and actually be told that he could be depressed.

These hotlines are life changing. And, unlike the solutions of most political issues, are also easily attainable. There are already many current suicide hotlines, all that is needed is some kind of voice changing software for their phones to preserve the anonymity of the people calling in. This one item could change thousands, even millions, of people’s lives.

Works Cited

Gardner, Amanda. “How Gender Stereotypes Warp Our View of Depression.” Time. Time, 15 Nov. 2012. Web.

Goleman, D. “Stereotypes of the sexes persisting in therapy.” New York Times 10 Apr. 1990:C1.Academic Search Complete. Web.

Li, Zhuoyang, et al. “Attributable Risk Of Psychiatric And Socio-Economic Factors For Suicide From Individual-Level, Population-Based Studies: A Systematic Review.” Social Science & Medicine 72.4 (2011): 608-616. Academic Search Complete. Web.

Marcus, David L. “What It Took To Pull Me Through.”Nieman Reports 58.4 (2004): 67-68.Academic Search Complete.

“Social Class and Mental Illness: A Community Study.” American Journal of Public Health. American Public Health Association, Oct. 2007. Web.

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