Why is Psychiatry so Taboo?

Submitted by Dr. Chinazo Echezona-Johnson, DNP, EdD, LLB, MSN, PCC, CNE, CNEcl, NPD-BC, RNC-MNN

Tags: culture Mental Illness Psychiatry stigma

Why is Psychiatry so Taboo?

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In almost every society, psychiatry has an adverse stigma attached to it. Any form of mental illness is perceived as a sign of weakness. In some cultures, psychiatry is not considered an important or prestigious form of medicine. To acknowledge the importance of psychotherapy is to recognize that the members of the society may have some mental abnormality. There is a thin line between sanity and insanity. So to concede that something is wrong with one's relatives is the admittance that one may be inflicted with the same disorder.

Since we live in a society that admires youth, strength, and health, mental illness is seen as a taboo because of the effect that it will have on our social, personal lives, and our careers. The myth is that mental illness will take away those things that we cherish - freedom, safety, our families' love, finances, and the respect from the society. To admit mental illness is to recognize that weakness and dependence on others.

In the United States, mental illness will prevent one from getting into some professions. Any mental illness diagnosis is ground for discrimination from career prospects and even from personal relationships. Mentally ill people are falsely assumed to be violent and irrational. These people are discriminated against and wrongly judged in every way. For example, some families will even go as far as to legally deny the psychiatric patient of all of their financial rights and decision-making capabilities.

In African countries, mental illness has a detrimental stigma attached to it. Men and women are cautioned against marrying from families with mental illness since it is believed that mental illness is hereditary. Mental illnesses are usually not diagnosed or treated because of a limited number of trained mental health providers and psychotherapeutic medications. The indigent mentally ill patients are out-casted by their families. These mentally ill patients usually end up in jails; become victims to children's taunts and jeers; die from other diseases, hunger or brutality in the hands of other mental patients or criminals. Most patients are subjected to archaic and brutal treatments like flogging and dangerous traditional practices. 

Some African cultures see the mental illness as a possession of evil spirits’ punishment from higher being or curse from enemies. Families will turn to dangerous or fake spiritualists and even the church for healing. These patients will live at the church or with the spiritualist for treatments and deliverance. Unfortunately, most of these patients are abused physically, mentally, emotionally and sexually by their so-called deliverers. Unfortunately, as a result of poverty and corruption, African mental patients may not receive public or governmental assistance. 

So in every society, the taboo of psychiatry is a defense mechanism. It is a way of safeguarding the egos of the members of the society. People will always assume that if mental illness is not discussed, it will eventually go away. Unfortunately, unlike the viral cold, mental illness will never go away. Untreated, it usually festers and grows until it becomes unmanageable or causes more harm to the individual and the society.