The Negatuve Stigma of Mental Illness

In our society there is a huge negative stereotype about mental illness and treatment for mental illness. Given we live in the United States in the 21st century, this is quite surprising. Especially since statistics show the 1 in 5 people could benefit from psychotherapy.
Most people when they think about psychotherapy or mental illness, think of someone sleeping in the street or some one with severe schizophrenia. Because of this stereotype many people feel ashamed or embarrassed if they are told they need therapy. Family members also feel ashamed and embarrassed and never mention it to other people. However, most people who need treatment for a mental illness need treatment for depression or anxiety not schizophrenia.
Research shows that depression is due to a chemical imbalance in brain. Diabetes is due to the pancreas not being able to coordinate glucose levels in the body. We don’t make a person with diabetes feel embarrassed or ashamed so why do we make someone dealing with depression feel embarrassed or ashamed?
What is the cost of this stereotype? People who have depression are at risk for suicide. The 2014 Center for Disease Control show that suicide is the third leading cause of death for people aged10 to 24. Yes ten year old children are killing themselves. One of the most common methods is a gun. People assume this is a guarantee. Wrong a gun is not a guarantee. Quite often the gun jumps and the person lives. However, they have to undergo multiple surgeries to try to rebuild their face. However, no matter how good the surgeon, the person is left with multiple permanent scars. Psychotherapy and medication might have prevented it.
However, because of our negative stereotype, depression and suicide have never been taken seriously. The Golden Gate Bridge is the most common place in the world for people to jump off when they are trying to commit suicide. It wasn’t until just recently that the Bridge District voted on what type of anti-suicide barrier they are going to build. And the Golden Gate Bridge is 78 years old. It only took 78 years to do something about a life or death issue. BART has been around for decades and people have been jumping in front of trains for years. This year BART is starting an anti-suicide campaign. How many lives were lost needlessly.
Often we assume it is a money issue. Only poor people commit suicide because they cannot afford treatment. The suicide this year of Robin Williams destroys that myth. He had plenty of financial resources for treatment and had been in and out of treatment. In an interview with Dyane Swayer he described how overwhelming depression is, he said, “no matter what there is always that little voice in the back of my mind saying jump.” If that voice is always there but society is saying there is something wrong with you for having depression in the first place or because you have not over come it, are you going to ask for help or keep seeking help? No.
Yes society often blames the patient. Why don’t they try harder? Why didn’t they think of their family? After Robin Williams’ suicide a number of comedians and actors talked about their silent struggle with depression. Rosie O’Donnell stated it best, “when you are that deep down in that black hole with intense emotional pain, the only think you can think about is how to stop the pain. You don’t think about your family or anything else.”
May was Mental Health Awareness Month, think about your opinion or thoughts about mental illness. Think about a 10 year old boy feeling that suicide is the only way out of his pain. Think about the fact that he is dealing with a medical diagnosis similar to diabetes or high blood pressure. Is this right? Why is there this negative stigma about mental illness? If a child has diabetes he receives medical treatment, there are summer camps and there is no shame put on the child or the family.
We need to make a change in how we view or react to mental illness. We live in the United States of America and we are supposed to be the super power in the world. You wouldn’t think that in the most powerful nation in the world that the third leading cause of death for our children is suicide. We must change this ridiculous stereotype we have about mental illness and start providing people and children with appropriate treatment for their mental illness. The life you save might be your’s child’s life or the life of a family member or friend.

Dr. Michael Rubino is in private practice in Pleasant Hill. You can reach him via email at or his web site

4 thoughts on “The Negatuve Stigma of Mental Illness

  1. While I appreciate the desire to help depressed people and end the stigma of mental illness, you strengthen the stigma of suicide.

    Suicide isn’t bad. Suicide is a personal choice. Suicide is consent, it’s when we say ‘no’ to life instead of ‘yes’, which is no different than rejecting a person romantically. This right to die has been withheld from us for too long. All these suicide barriers keep sending the same message: Your body and life are not your own. Don’t kill yourself. We own you.

    We never chose to be born, so why can’t we choose to die?


    1. You make my point we don’t decide to be born, why should we have the right to decide to die? Also how do we know the person is making a rational choice or that s/he is not being forced to choose suicide. It is a very slippery slope when we allow suicide


      1. That’s a dangerous logic. It means we can impose everything on everyone. We can’t run a society like this.

        How do we know people will force others into suicide? People already despise suicide in a society. I still think most people wouldn’t apply for AS even if they have these thoughts. Suicide is a pretty rare phenomenon.


  2. Suicide is an epidemic in the US. It is the 3rd leading cause of death for those 10 to 24 years old. Many of them are begging for help and after hearing no over and over they see suicide as their only way out of the pain. We need better mental health care to decrease the suicide rate


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