Scattergood Foundation

Advancing Innovative Strategies for Change in Behavioral Health

Stereotypes about People with Mental Illness

Common Stereotypes:
Below are the most common stereotypes about people with mental health conditions followed by the truth. Endorsement of these stereotypes can lead to prejudice

STEREOTYPE: People with mental illness are dangerous and unpredictable. This is the most prevalent stereotype about people with mental health conditions. It is reinforced on a daily basis by popular media, including the news media. Several studies have found that news coverage of people with mental illness in the United States are far more likely to be about violence than news coverage in other countries.
REALITY: Most people with mental illness never commit acts of violence and are more likely than others to be victims of violence. The reality is that people who do not have mental health conditions commit most violent crimes. In fact, according to data from the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions, only 3% of people with mental illness are violent. That means 97% of people with mental illness are not violent. 

STEREOTYPE: People with mental illness are incompetent. This stereotype is also very pervasive. Popular media furthers this stereotype as well by portraying people with mental illness as wildly irrational or childlike. 

REALITY: This stereotype could not be further from the truth. Examples such as Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, and Ernest Hemmingway demonstrate that incompetence need not accompany a mental health condition.

STEREOTYPE: People with mental illness deserve blame for their conditions. While this stereotype has lessened somewhat in recent years, it is still very common. It can also be expressed as people with mental illness are weak or have character flaws that lead to their conditions.
REALITY: As research has shown, life experiences, trauma, and biology are to blame for mental illness, not the person with the diagnosis. 

STEREOTYPE: People with mental illness have little hope for recovery. This stereotype would have you believe that a person with a mental illness is irretrievably damaged.

REALITY: Research has shown that most people who receive treatment do improve, including those with serious conditions like bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Sadly, one of the reasons some people with diagnosable conditions do not seek treatment is because they believe this stereotype.