The Stigma of Mental Illness - Part 1

The word stigma originates “from the Latin stigmat-, to mark, brand,” and “from Greek stizein, to tattoo.” It describes a permanent mark affixed upon the human body; we humans, traditionally, have deep fears of what such a mark can portend.


The Mark of Cain, the branding of a slave, a drunk, or a prostitute, the Roman branding of fugitives, the Puritanical Scarlet Letter. We even have prophecy in the book of Revelation:

16 And he causeth all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond, to receive a mark in their right hand, or in their foreheads:

17 And that no man might buy or sell, save he that had the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name.

Revelation 13:16-17 King James Version (KJV)

It is impossible to escape the deep-rooted, human belief that a permanent mark indicates someone or something to avoid.

Hear the word “suicide” today, you feel an impulse to rear back and guard yourself; lest you receive a similar brand. This fear is so ingrained that people have called me to say: “Thank you for talking about this; it is important that we talk more about it today.”

In the back of my mind, I ask: “What is the ‘it’ they are referring to”?

It is a sign of progress that even though most people still do not feel comfortable saying the words mental illness, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and suicide, at least a conversation can happen. Even if the ______________ disorder remains unsaid, that is far better than no one talking about mental illness at all.

This will be a multi-part series where I examine the history of stigma, how mental illness was stigmatized, and ways that you can help excise this blot on human wellness.

For now, I encourage you to donate to some worthy organizations: