Stereotypes and Prejudice

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I am so tired of hearing about all the stereotypes of people with Bipolar or any mental illness. I don’t want my son to be treated differently because of his illness. What can I do?

You have a very legitimate concern. It has been found that there are very common misconceptions out there about people with mental illness. Analysis of film and print media have shown that the most common misconceptions that have led to stigmatizing attitudes are that people with mental illness are dangerous and should be feared, that they are comparable to children and should be pitied and that they are rebellious and need to be told what to do.

Even though stereotypes may be widespread, this does not mean that all or even most people agree with them. The problem is when people see the stereotypes as valid. The endorsement of these negative stereotypes is prejudice, and with prejudice comes an evaluative piece. Unfortunately this evaluative component is usually negative.

It is natural for humans to categorize because the world is far too big and multifaceted for us to experience and understand it all. We can’t experience it all so we have to find a way to make sense of the world so we use images that we have heard or seen to classify which leads to stereotypes. Unfortunately, this natural reaction that we all use can have significant negative impact on people’s lives.

The stereotype of being violent is one that is particularly strong and this is a huge impediment as people with mental illness are not welcomed in to communities. Communities that are educated about mental illness, that are understanding and supportive are needed where the person with the illness and their caregiver(s) can develop strong relationships with people in the community. The quality of life of all involved (person who is ill, caregiver(s) and community members) will increase.

With this perceived dangerousness a core component of the stigma around mental illness of any kind, factors like being a young male may increase the chance of your son being stigmatized and of the family being stigmatized.

One thing to consider for yourself is: How do you react to your son when they are ill? Many families have said that they end up putting a lot of control on their family member, partially because they don’t want others to in any way perceive them as “dangerous” or “out of control”. So what can you do? People often come up with classifications or listen to stereotypes because they have never actually had any interaction with the people they are stereotyping. When you talk to others about your son, focus on him as a person, not on the illness. When people see you respond to him the same as you always did or just as you would someone without the illness, they will take your lead. Taking cues from how much he is ready for, have him get out there and connect with people.

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