The Truth Behind the Stigma of Mental Illness

An Article that Throws Light on Popularly

belived prejudices and taboos about Mental Illness

By John Storey

If you are on crutches, using a Zimmer frame,


in a wheel chair, with a white stick or such like it is obvious that you are disabled, physical illness symptoms, which show, make it obvious too.

Mental illness is another matter.  For one thing it does not, it can be ‘put on’ e.g. to avoid work.  It can also be sign of refusal to grow up.  But people tend to put all mentally distressed in these categories, jumping to conclusions that if the above could happen it is happening – whether it is or not so they get sympathy or understanding.


A lot of the time they get abuse, piss taking, butt of jokes patronised, bossed around.  It is no ones choice to be ill.

In very early days, when religion played a huge part in daily lives, mentally ill were thought to be possessed by the devil Satan, the serpent from the garden of Eden.  Such a person could be horsewhipped, treated as a witch and shunned

The Fall of Adam and Eve, Hugo van der Goes, c. 1470

In the reign of Queen Victoria, secure asylums were built to protect such people from the public.  They were also used as a type dustbin to get rid of “difficult” people hence the word “bin”, which means mental asylum.


These asylums doubled as prisons to protect the public from these “mad people” on the principle of putting dangerous animals into cages.  The word “lunatic” was coined from the wild fantasy that these mad people like wolves went rally berserk on the nights of full moon.  These asylums provided a source of entertainment for families — take the family pot for the day to see the crazies in the local asylum, in the same way going to the zoo.

Another fact is that the word ”mad” is relative.  You could be mad in one circle, mildly eccentric in another, accepted as who you are in yet another.  The average “mad “ person is in this position.  Also, these mad people may be suffering from romantic experiences such as things as divorce, sacking, evictions, bereavement, interfering parents, with all the resulting tirade of conflicting, life sapping thoughts like guilt, anger, etc leading to emotional confusion and “crossed brain wires”.

The more intelligent a person is the more likely they are to suffer from overload perhaps due to too many thoughts.  We don’t need to be told that modern living is getting more pressurised.


How would Joe Public (average from the common stock) feel if he went through the mill like this? He can thank his lucky stars he hasn’t gone mad…yet!

Mental distress is not a nice subject to talk about in the local pubs. It is a taboo subject.  Recent advances in medications and treatment can make these mad people more docile but the taboo still remains and won’t go away.

In Great Britain, we are renowned for our stiff upper lip syndrome not letting the side down, putting a brave face on it all.  It is obvious why the mentally distressed are stigmatised in this environment, spoiling our green and pleasant lands.  Even Prince Edward was called derogatory things when he left the Royal marines and worked in the theatre.  Yet he is the most sensible “royal” since the Queen and Queen Mother.

William Wordsworth was known for his stiff “upper lip”


We have to live to the accepted norm, abide by and follow acceptable behaviour.  We have to tow the invisible line.  I can’t see you?  Can anybody tell us what that norm is?

The End of the 1st Article.

Second Articles will be in November.  Look at this space.

John Story is 67 and half years old.  He lives in Letchworth Garden City Hertfordshire.  On 11 October he came all the way down to London and joined the Largactyle Shuffle, the most fabulous walk in London from Maudsley Hospital to Tate Modern.  He has written many articles about Mental Illness and its notion, philosophy, ethos and culture.

Editor: Sasha Dee

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