Dissolving the stigma

Sad and depressed young woman leaning against a wall
Photo: © Atic12 / 123RF Stock Photo

Suppose Deepika Padukone is standing in front of a bunch of youth. Her gorgeous smile and perfect figure might tickle the senses of the youth goggling at her. While smiling as if in a trance in response to her gorgeous, coy, sexy smile and caressing her with their eyes, that “depression” bug will be buzzing inside their heads.

None of them however would love to begin an authentic, enduring relationship with her. The real monster power of stigma is so pungent. She is ‘different’. The stigma attached to mental illness thrives by fuelling doubts in the minds of so-called ‘normal’ individuals regarding the sanity of the stigmatized. All the behavioural aspects (emotional-intellectual-social) of the person labelled as having depression will always be weighed for its content from two stances — sanity and insanity. Even Deepika’s sexy smile will be scanned for possible traces of depression.

Why does she fight?

What might have urged Deepika to take this bold step? For sure it must be the realities she experienced during her struggle with depression. She knew that she could function like any other normal person though she had to go through bouts of depression. So, according to her, the difference between a person with and without depression isn’t anything more than that between a person with a migraine and the one without it. A migraine, in some cases is curable. Otherwise, the individual learns to get along with it. Deepika wanted to elevate the lay person’s attitude towards common mental disorders (CMD) to the level of their approach towards common physical ailments like migraine. She hoped that by speaking aloud the tag of stigma can be removed.

The stigma associated with mental illness spurts mainly from two aspects of human cognition:

1) Ignorance 2) Tangibility

Ignorance: For sure, a psychiatrist can relate to Deepika just as he relates to any other person around him. Because he knows what depression is. People who are not psychologists or psychiatrists are not benefitted with proper insight into the nuances of depression. The absence of facts prompts human minds to borrow from rumours, baseless talks, and blind beliefs in order to interpret many social/individual phenomenon. This aloofness between the perceiver and the object of perception arising from ignorance is the real source of stigma. Greater the perceiver’s clarity regarding the object of perception, better the chances for the stigma to be diluted.

Tangibility: That the bacterium Mycobacterium tuberculosis is responsible for tuberculosis; that HIV is contracted through sexual contact; these are concrete diagnostic facts that can be readily grasped about the patients stamped as carriers of tuberculosis or AIDS.

But what about a person subjected to (CMD) common mental disorder? Symptoms of depression have much in common with normal behaviour observed in the sane population. Segregating one with depression from the rest of the crowd is not an easy task. For example, “sadness” is a trait noticed in both non-depressive as well as depressive personalities though in different degrees. A person labelled as a case of depression when sad, there is maximum chance for his normal sadness being interpreted as a symptom of depression. That is how the stigma works as a confinement for those labelled as having any CMD.

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Jeny Rapheal
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Jeny Rapheal

Jeny Rapheal is a higher secondary school teacher working in Thrissur, Kerala with 17 years experience in teaching. She has published 20 research papers in various national international journals. She is currently doing research in adolescent psychology at Bharathiar University Coimbatore.