• Colin Ward

It's hard to pretend to be normal. Here's why we fear the mentally ill.

Updated: Nov 11, 2019

(I wrote this piece last year but am reposting it to accompany my thoughts on the Joker movie).



Photo by Nicholas Kusuma on Unsplash

In 2000, a poll to study the mental illness stigma found 68% of people unwilling to have people with mental illness marry into their family, work closely with them (58%) or spend an evening socializing with them (56%). Data can be mind-numbing and impersonal, yet this sunk into my spirit as it validated my worst fears.


“6 Dimensions to describe characteristics or conditions prone to stigmatization.”


Concealability – Visibility of physical symptoms.

Course – Stability across time

Disruptiveness – The perception of the illness as disruptive to interpersonal connection

Peril – How threatening the condition is. 

Aesthetic Dimension – How visually discerning the condition is.

Origin – Is the person responsible for their state of mind or is it a result of trauma?


These elements are crucial in exploring questions about the mentally ill in society. How has the treatment of mental illness evolved since the ancient world? What is the origin of the stigma of mental illness and has it improved since the 2000 poll? How does it manifest in culture? What is the relationship between power and treatment?


I don’t pretend to think that I can answer all these questions will be answered fully or remain unchanged but they will guide my research.


I hope you will find this informative or at least useful for small talk. Write to me with your thoughts, opinions, guidance or areas of further research. Thank you for your time.

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