Think for a moment about the following words: depressive, bipolar, mania, schizophrenia. What comes to mind when you think of mental illness? Fear, disdain or a condescending concern?
That’s called stigma, defined by Merriam-Webster as a mark of shame or discredit.
Did you perhaps instead think of great leaders, such as Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi and Theodore Roosevelt? Or the Nobel Prize winning mathematician, John Nash?
Are You Stigmatizing Mental Illness?
Several analyses of media and print, and responses to surveys by 2000 American and English citizens, as reported by World Psychiatry, have identified three main stigmatizing attitudes about mental illness (1):
a) “persons with severe mental illness should be feared and, therefore, be kept out of most communities;
b) “authoritarianism: persons with severe mental illness are irresponsible, so life decisions should be made by others;
c) “benevolence: persons with severe mental illness are childlike and need to be cared for.”
Many patents diagnosed with mental illness feel a deep shame, irrespective of social prejudice. Referred to as self-stigma, those with mental illness often nurture a prejudice against themselves. This self-stigma, combined with a fear of rejection, can lead people to take fewer risks and pursue fewer opportunities. (1)
Recent research into the benefits of mental illness may expedite change concerning societal stigmas. In 2013, the American Psychological Association held a groundbreaking conference during which panelists presented research on the benefits of bipolar disorder. (2)
Leadership Skills and Bipolar Disorder
The link between mental illness and creativity is widely accepted: Ludwig Van Beethoven, Vincent Van Gogh and Ernest Hemingway reported manic depression. But many of history’s great leaders have also had bipolar disorder: Theodore Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and General George Patton. (3)
In the Harvard Business Review, Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries wrote, “As history shows, manic-depressive leaders like these are great in a crisis, refusing to bow to adversity.