Here’s a line from The Dark Knight script written by Christopher Nolan and David Goyer. To set the scene, good guy Harvey Dent has one of the Joker’s henchmen and is roughing him up. The Batman appears and suggests that he might like to act more responsibly (‘You’re the symbol of hope I could never be’ etc). During this exchange Batman reflects upon the mental health of the Joker’s man:
His name’s Shiff, Thomas. He’s a paranoid schizophrenic, a former patient at Arkham. The kind of man the joker attracts script page 82
This sort of casual unthinking prejudice and stigmatization I cannot let pass without comment. Someone who suffers from schizophrenia is a not simply a ‘schizophrenic’ but a person. Although many people suffering from schizophrenia, as well as other disorders of mental health, are vulnerable, it does not follow that they would be easily perverted in this way. You may think that I am being needlessly pedantic, but this has been an extremely popular film and this scene will influence many people’s perceptions of what it is to have a serious mental illness.
Stigma has been found to be highly prevalent among people with a serious mental health problem living in the community. Due to exchanges like the above both former psychiatric patients and members of the general population internalise negative cultural conceptions and attitudes about people who have been diagnosed with a mental illness. This results in discrimination, leading to to people who have been labelled mentally ill being denied important life opportunities. For example, people with mental illness are frequently unable to obtain good jobs or find suitable housing because of the attitudes of key members of their community such as employers and landlords.
As a result, many psychiatric patients form a negative self-concept emerges from both their primary disorder and from the cumulative reaction of others. Social rejection is an ongoing and recursive experience in the community setting and a persistent form of social stress.
How stigma interferes with mental health care Patrick Corrigan American Psychologist 2004