What are the Different Forms of Mental Illness Discrimination?

Marjorie McAtee

Mental illness discrimination is considered a prevalent problem for those suffering from mental illness. For many, the stigma of mental illness makes living with such an illness even more difficult. Persons with mental illness may experience rejection by friends and family, they may be passed over for jobs or promotions, or they may be denied adequate health care. Mental illness discrimination can even make the mentally ill vulnerable to acts of violence. Many persons with mental illness feel reluctant to discuss their illness with others due to the fear of mental illness discrimination.

People suffering from mental illness may experience rejection from friends and family.
People suffering from mental illness may experience rejection from friends and family.

One of the primary forms of mental illness discrimination can be found in the realm of health care. Many mentally ill patients find that their family doctors or general practitioners disregard their mental illness symptoms, or refuse to offer treatment for mental illness symptoms that do not appear to endanger the patient's life. Reports suggest that some physicians may disregard symptoms of physical illness in the mentally ill, perhaps due to a general belief that mentally ill people are unreliable or untrustworthy, and may possibly be imagining physical symptoms that don't really exist. Health insurance providers may fail to offer adequate coverage for mental health problems, making it difficult for sufferers of mental illness to afford the treatment they need.

Individuals suffering from mental illness may be prone to wandering away from home.
Individuals suffering from mental illness may be prone to wandering away from home.

Employers have also been known to practice mental illness discrimination. Many employers may perceive persons with mental illness as dangerous, unreliable, or unintelligent. A study by the Mental Health Foundation in the United Kingdom, found that nearly 75 percent of persons with mental illness felt disinclined to reveal the nature of their illness to employers, and that about 50 percent of those with mental illness felt disinclined to inform coworkers of their medical condition.

People with mental illnesses can also face discrimination from family, friends, and community members. Some experts blame a widespread lack of understanding about the nature of mental illness for this phenomenon. Persons with mental illness have been known to report that family and friends fail to take mental illness seriously, or treat it as a genuine mental condition. Instead, family and friends may be more likely to treat the person's mental illness as a character flaw, or as a minor problem that the person should be able to control through willpower alone. This failure to recognize the serious medical nature of mental illness can deprive the mentally ill of the social support they need.

The social stigma surrounding mental illness can even put persons with mental disorders at increased risk of suffering physical and verbal abuse. While experts tend to believe that most persons with mental illness aren't violent themselves, many laypeople believe that the mentally ill are especially prone to violent outbursts. Beliefs that the mentally ill often lack intelligence and skills, or that they are untrustworthy, can put the mentally ill, and their families and friends, at risk of being victimized.

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