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Mark of the Beast

Commentary on Living With the Stigma of Mental Illness

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Updated September 19, 2011

No, this article has nothing to do with fundamentalism or doomsday prophecies. I do, however, think "the Beast" is an apt description of mental illness and we, ourselves, are beasts of burden who must bear the weight of the suffering and stigma it causes. Whether there is a mark upon us literally as with the young author of Label Maker, who must wear a Medic-Alert bracelet with the words MANIC DEPRESSIVE engraved on it, or simply scars upon our psyches, we live with the stigma of it everyday. People with mental illness are called "nuts", "crazy", "cuckoo", "not playing with a full deck", the list goes on and on. There is a stereotype of those with mental illness as behaving in bizarre ways, being unkempt and dirty, and being dangerous to be around. Those with depression are often further labeled as "lazy" or "malingering".

A post I found on a depression message board illustrates the pain that these stereotypes can cause. The incident this woman wrote about occurred 30 years ago but could just as easily have happened today.

There are various groups who are working diligently to educate the public and dispel the myths surrounding mental illness. Among these is Stigma Busters - a grassroots effort of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) to protest demeaning media portrayals of the mentally ill. In the past they have targeted an episode of The Drew Carey Show, the children's movie Goodburger and the Jim Carrey movie Me, Myself and Irene for their negative portrayals of the mentally ill.

Unfortunately, there are also persons with advanced degrees, persons whom the public trusts because of their education, who are working to perpetuate the damaging stereotypes. While researching this topic, I was both amazed and appalled to find a Web page entitled The Myth of Biological Depression, by Lawrence Stevens, JD Upon closer inspection of the of the scholarly references he presents, it becomes clear that his argument that depression is simply "severe unhappiness" and " is always the result of life experience" does not hold water. The damage of his spurious thinking, however, has already been done. At the bottom of this page is the statement: "THE AUTHOR, Lawrence Stevens, is a lawyer whose practice has included representing psychiatric 'patients'." Note that the word patients in quotes as if emphasizing the fact that there is nothing really wrong with these people. It's all in their heads. I certainly wouldn't want this man representing my interests in court!

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