Challenging Mental Health Stereotypes and Stigmas

Challenging Mental Health Stereotypes and Stigmas

By Sahana

 Challenging Mental Health Stereotypes and Stigmas

We’ve all grown up around a number of stereotypes. The ones that I distinctly recall from my Indian household are that being overweight meant the equivalent of being ugly. As a society, we are so deep-rooted in stigmas and misconceptions. Mental health for me was a topic that was left far behind the agenda. To be mentally sick was an abnormality, and depression was solely for the ‘weak’. It wasn't until I was dealing with a period that I could no longer explain to my parents, who thought therapy was a concept that only existed for entertainment purposes in American sitcoms. It is when I really understood how stereotyped mental health was.

Misconceptions and Stereotypes

The stereotypes and misconceptions around mental health does not end there. Mental illness is also perceived as a sign of weakness. While not understanding the broad concept of mental health, society fails to acknowledge it as a real struggle one might have to go through. Having OCD is just being obsessed with cleanliness, and there is nothing more to that condition, not even the underlying thought process that goes through with it. Schizophrenia is a concept that we are only acquainted with through the characters of dangerous criminals from the TV shows and movies that we watch, which is a faulty portrayal of a real mental disorder.



In fact, this misconception that having a mental illness is making you unfit for society has been conceptualised into our minds. As kids, we would often joke around the idea of sending someone to NIMHANS. To me, that institute was the hospital of the mad, the mentally “unstable”. I grew up with my friends using NIMHANS as a playful insult, not realizing that being mentally unwell did not mean being ‘mad’ or so unfit to society that you’d have to be ‘jailed’ in a hospital. It was only later that I knew that NIMHANS stood for National Institute for Mental Health and Neuroscience. In the early 2010s, I thought the mad had to be cured with shock therapy - there was this mental image of a person in white and black stripes being tied into an electric chair to get treated for his mental illness. When I visited NIMHANS as a seventeen-year-old, I realized that wasn’t really the case. The doctors were just like any other doctor and the institute was like any other medical institute. Why would this hospital be treated any differently than the others?

It is also believed that mental health is the possession of the evil spirit. I sometimes struggle to choose between this myth or the one that says it is the punishment for the sins we committed in our past life. Despite calling ourselves a civilized society, it is humorous how so many of us indulge in this idea. I realized this when an article popped up from a reputed media source stating that a film actor committed suicide, not because of depression, but because his girlfriend was using black magic on the said actor. It was as though the media was trying to push the stereotypical agenda about mental health and rejecting the real causes and effects of mental health disorders. 

There is also the overlapping of stereotypes on the existing misconceptions of mental health. Gender stereotypes are one such example. Women tend to develop more eating disorders as a result of their preoccupation with beauty stereotypes. A very familiar adage is - “Men don’t cry.” Shockingly enough, the impact of this stereotype often is felt in statistics that show that men have a higher suicide rate. Expression of emotions is healthy and is quite often an important requisite to mental health. However, when we as a society indulge in these misconceptions and stereotypes, we tend to internalize them within ourselves. 



Impact of Stereotypes on Mental Health

One cannot always question what has been so strongly ingrained in our minds by the social conditioning around us. It's crucial to look at our own prejudices in order to address the detrimental effects that stereotypes can have on both ourselves and other people. Without realizing it, many of us have internalized preconceptions about ourselves and others. When you question the stereotypes that are prevalent in the world, you may start to fight unhealthy thought patterns, comprehend how stereotypes affect people, and assist them.

The phenomenon of self-stigmatization of mental health prevents many from accessing mental health care services. People who are going through a hard time need to ask for help as required. Praying to god will not make it go away. You are not weak if you go to a therapist. Mental health disorders are real illnesses and it is not just ‘in our heads’. A positive attitude is not enough to overcome the dark phase you’re going through. All of these myths need to be conquered and restructured if we don’t want to be victims of our own thoughts. Destigmatization of mental health is the need of the hour. 


 To know more about The Power of Positive Affirmations read here

To know more about How to overcome the Impact of Body Dysmorphia on Mental Health read here



  1. SAMHSA. (2023, April 24). Mental health myths and facts. SAMHSA. 
  2. Corrigan, P. W., & Watson, A. C. (2002, February). Understanding the impact of stigma on people with mental illness. World psychiatry : official journal of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA).   
  3. Hussain, M. (2021, August 27). We don’t take mental health seriously here in India. Times of India Blog.   
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