The Mark of Shame: Stigma of Mental Illness and an Agenda for Change

The Mark of Shame: Stigma of Mental Illness and an Agenda for Change

The Mark of Shame: Stigma of Mental Illness and an Agenda for Change

The Mark of Shame: Stigma of Mental Illness and an Agenda for Change

Synopsis

In The Mark of Shame, Stephen P. Hinshaw addresses the psychological, social, historical, and evolutionary roots of the stigma of mental illness as well as the long history of such stigmatization.

Excerpt

Mental illness has been part of the human condition for as long as our species has existed, affecting countless individuals, families, and communities. Major advances regarding mental disorders are now appearing with regularity, particularly with respect to treatment options. Yet emotional reactions to mental disorder are still dominated by fear, pity, and scorn; societal responses continue to be characterized by banishment, punishment, and neglect. Although the very nature of mental illness makes it understandable that empathy is difficult to sustain, the lack of respect and fairness signals deeper currents.

At one level, things appear to be changing. People with mental disorders are “coming out of the closet” with increasing frequency. Celebrities and authors now openly disclose their stories of substance abuse, mood disorder and treatment with electroconvulsive therapy (Kitty Dukakis), postpartum depression (Brooke Shields), bipolar disorder (Jane Pauley), or suicidality (William Styron); star athletes are coming forward with their experiences in therapy (for example, Alex Rodríguez, the New York Yankee and American League Most Valuable Player in 2005). Even those without celebrity status are more open and increasingly likely to admit that they see a therapist or take psychoactive medications such as Prozac or similar compounds. Have we in fact entered a new era of openness and tolerance?

In 1999 President Bill Clinton and Tipper Gore sponsored the first-ever White House Conference on Mental Health. This conference made public the importance of mental disorder and stated explicitly that people with mental disorders must be accorded the same respect as those with physical illnesses. During that same year the Surgeon General of the United States, Dr. David Satcher, released a report on mental disorder, the first such report ever to emanate from that high office. Noteworthy in this landmark document was the . . .

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