From Ignorance to Inequality: How has a lack of knowledge justified discriminating against people with psychotic disorders?

I CARE, YOU SHOULD TOO: An introduction to the discrimination that people with psychotic disorders face and why it matters.  

               While mood disorders such as anxiety and depression have been normalized in our current society to the point where we can usefully talk about them, a stigma about psychotic disorders remains, which is why I’d like to specify the term. Psychotic disorders are defined as “severe mental disorders that cause abnormal thinking and perceptions”(MedlinePlus), and some of the common symptoms are hallucinations or delusions. One of the most commonly known psychotic disorders is Schizophrenia, but there are also illnesses like Schizoaffective disorder in which psychotic and mood disorder symptoms are combined. I became interested in these topics through my grandparents and sister, who all studied psychology, talk about mental diagnosis, but I never understood the depth of all the disorders that my family talked about, which leads me to the issue I decided to focus on. Because psychotic disorders have not been addressed with that scientific term until fairly recently, misconceptions about the people suffering from these illnesses have developed that led to socioeconomic discrimination today. Ultimately, stopping this discrimination is in our hands. No law or government order can adjust a societal misconception, so the best we can do is try to spread the truth about the inequality surrounding psychotic disorders.

To Read more about my personal interest go to: 

On this webpage, you will learn about how ignorance about mental illness, particularly psychotic disorders, transitioned into discrimination in health care, employment, insurance, and many other aspects of life.
some common misconceptions about psychotic disorders to keep in mind to help reduce stigma
“Life with Psychosis.”

INFATUATION WITH FEAR: How “Inhuman” Views on Mental Illness Turned into Terror of those Diagnosed with Psychotic Disorders. 

            Ancient Greece and Rome adopted a naturalistic model early on which meant they ignored any scientific view on mental illness, and 16th and 17th-century societies were filled with a fear of witches and satan (Hinshaw). This belief system was carried around the world, meaning people in the United States also adopted it. Because the belief that people with mental disorders were innately dangerous and subhuman became widely spread, a lack of effective strategies for dealing with mental disorders also spread. Terms like “lunacy” and “insanity” were used most commonly and the treatment for psychosis was not humane. Beliefs that (a) beatings of those with mental disorders were a viable treatment and (b) possession by the devil was a major causal factor”(Hinshaw) became common. The fear that justified this kind of treatment continued to grow for a considerable amount of time, which created a circle of stigma that was almost impossible for people with mental disorders to escape. Fred E. Markowitz from Northern Illinois University explained that when “persons who are labeled are rejected and discriminated against when attempting to resume normative roles… [their identity] is altered, leading to behavior consistent with the expectations for the role of ‘mentally ill’”(Markowitz 335). So in other words, the connotations that society placed on psychotic disorders were fulfilled by people with mental illnesses because of the treatment they faced. A rise in media in the 20th century also contributed to the growth of psychosis stigma, because it provided an opportunity to spread these misconceptions even further. 

To read more about the historical context of the issue go to:

PEOPLE & PROGRESS: A brief description of some people who have already begun working towards equality and actions that have been taken to eliminate the stigma.

               Some calls for reform began in the 1840s with people like Dorothea Dix, but they really became prominent in the mid to late 20th century. Dorothea Dix was a former school teacher who tried to convince legislators to do something about the inhumane conditions for the mentally ill in the 1840s. In 1983, Carl Malmquist published an article that highlighted the difficult shift between the belief that the mentally ill should not have any say in their treatment to the belief that they should be able to refuse all treatment. This respect for the opinions of people with psychotic disorders was very rare and highly rebutted. Research on mental disorders also became bigger in the 19th century, leading to the classification of different types of mental disorders and more scientific information about symptoms. One of the first alliance groups, the National Mental Health Association, was established in 1909, marking the recognition of a problem concerning mental illness. Another important advocate for the humane treatment of those with mental illness was Governer Green of Illinois, who signed a bill into law in 1943 that eliminated the “legal language of the terms ‘lunacy’ and ‘insanity’”(“Mental Illness”), which contradicted the social perceptions in place. A final example of people beginning to solve this problem in a historical context are President Bill Clinton and Tipper Gore. Clinton and Gore hosted the first conference on Mental Health at the White House in 1999, showing, for the first time, a federal commitment to mental health(Hinshaw). Presently, there are many more organizations working for equality, some examples being Mental Health America, National Institute of Mental Health, and the National Alliance on Mental Illness. State and federal governments have also occasionally tried to implement laws to positively impact those with mental disorders, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act, which classified mental illnesses as disorders and therefore protected many but also left room for discrimination because the laws implemented that involved physical things like building ramps to protect the physically disabled were easier to put in place than laws that required a mental shift. Similarly to the Americans with Disabilities Act, many of the actions that people have taken have fallen short due to the many obstacles that society creates. 

Dix Hospital, also known as “Lunatic Asylum” was the first North Carolina psychiatric hospital.
“Dorothea Dix Hospital.”

INTERNAL STIGMAS AND INJUSTICE: the Manifestations of a Societal Fear of Mental Illness to Discrimination.

The Infographic displays the harming effects of stigma and the feelings associated with it
“Stop The Stigma : The Realities Of Mental Health.”

              Today, the stigma that surrounds psychotic disorders manifests itself as discrimination in essential parts of life like insurance, health care, and employment. Many insurance companies do not provide enough funding for services that treat mental illnesses (Noe), and some even deny people with psychotic disorders insurance altogether. Many people in the US with mental illness also face discrimination when attempting to get access to it, for some private insurance companies provide fewer inpatient days per year for mental illness than they do for general health disorders(Noe). As if the increase in expenses for treatment were not enough, patients with mental disorders also face discrimination in the workplace. Sometimes extra job skill training is needed for people with mental illnesses, which can lead to misconceptions about people with mental disorders that worry people looking to hire. All of these common examples of discrimination can be “stressors in the environment [and] may contribute to psychotic relapses in persons who are vulnerable to schizophrenia”(Noe). 



To read more about the present problem go to: 


              I’m glad you asked. While it can be difficult to make an impact on society’s mindset, there are things that we can do on every level to fight for equality in terms of mental health. The most important solution, for now, is just educating yourself and others. A couple of ways that this can be done on an individual level is by adopting an educate the educators model (meaning that if we can teach people about the misconceptions of mental illness, those people are then prepared to tell others), and posting physical lessons like flyers. Something else we can all do yet sometimes forget is to be respectful because it is important to keep in mind how our actions can feed into the negative cycle of symptoms that people with psychotic disorders fall into. On a larger level, we should be campaigning for certain funds from the government. The funds that I think are particularly important are job training and health care funds. A final step one can take to solve the inequality that surrounds mental disorders is to donate to some of the organizations I have mentioned which have a broader reach and can use the money in very effective ways. No matter how you choose to contribute, it is important to take responsibility for our role in the mistreatment of others.

Before you leave, check out this short video made by the National Alliance on Mental Illness featuring some celebrities to hear again how stigma can be present in all of us and what we can do to be kinder.
“#CureStigma PSA – :60.”

Full Works Cited: 

Please give me any feedback or questions! Thank you again for taking the time to read about this issue, let me know if you need any clarification. Comment Below. 

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  1. April 23, 2020 by Yifei Qin

    Hi Anni,
    First of all, I love how the payout of your presentation is formatted along with your title, “From Ignorance to Inequality”. I believe the point you made about the lack of knowledge towards mental illness led to discrimination, and how the stigma of mental disorders are formed is very inspiring. I also like the historical and cultural background in the 19th century you brought in. The solutions you offered to solve the problem are also very motivating, but I am wondering how can we adopt the educators’ model to teach those who do not have prior knowledge about psychology? How can we make sure that they understood what the stigmas of mental illness are caused and teach it to others?

    • April 24, 2020 by Anni

      Hi Yifei!
      Thank you so much for looking at my webpage and commenting, I really appreciate it! To answer your questions to the best of my ability, I agree that it can be difficult to spread knowledge about something as complicated as psychology, but when teaching people with little prior knowledge of psychotic disorders, we don’t need them to know exactly what they are (although that would be amazing), just that these disorders don’t need to come with an immediate attachment of fear. We also can’t guarantee that everyone we talk to will fully understand the effects that stigma has on people with psychotic disorders, but it’s still incredibly important to continue personal research and spread the message that people with mental disorders are not innately dangerous or deserving of worse treatment. The Educate the Educators Model ensures that if you educate yourself and tell many more people what you learn, chances are that at least one person will do the same, which will eventually lead to much wider spread awareness. Let me know if you have any follow-ups and thanks again!

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