How Comparing Mental Illnesses Can Lead to Stigma

January 22, 2017 Laura A. Barton

It’s a natural thing to make comparisons, but when we compare mental illnesses, it can lead to stigma when you start using it, whether consciously or unconsciously, to figure out who’s sicker. While it’s very likely not intentional, when we, as people with mental illnesses, start keeping score, so to speak, we’re doing more damage than good. We end up seeing both kinds of stigma — stigma against others and self-stigma — as a result of comparing mental illnesses.

Stigma Results from Comparing Mental Illnesses

Comparing mental illnesses can lead to both stigma and self-stigma. Both are damaging, and both can be stopped. Read on to find out how.One of the things that can happen when we start looking around and comparing our own mental illnesses against others’ is we can end up thinking, “I might be sick, but at least I’m not that bad.”

I recently had a conversation with a friend who ended up doing this as he dealt with someone else in his life who has a more explosive kind of mental illness. Although he’s struggling with his own depression, his thought process when looking at that other person was at least he wasn’t as “crazy” or a “mental case” like that (Discussing Depression and Mental Health: Why Language Matters).

While I know that not everyone will use that stigmatizing language, the potential for that thought process is very real, and by engaging in it, you’re engaging in stigma. I don’t think there’s any problem in being grateful that you’re not worse off than you are, but when you start directly making that comparison to someone else, I think on some level it ends up coming across as seeing the other person as more flawed, when really we’re all just sick to varying degrees.

High Functionality and Mental Illness Comparisons

Personally speaking, this is one I struggle with, especially as an advocate. I see so many people in the mental health community whose lives have basically shut down because of their mental illnesses but I plod along through the day with my depression and anxiety in tow. I still struggle, but I’m not trapped. Many others have stories they can tell and more advice they can give simply because they have a different perspective than I do. My thoughts then become, “Do I have any right to advocate when I don’t come from that same place?”

Self-stigma kicks in and I think about how I’m clearly not “sick enough” to have a voice (The Cost of Self-Stigma). It can also deter people from getting treatment because there’s someone out there who must have it worse, so why do they deserve help when someone else might need it more?

One thing we have to realize, though, whether advocates or not, is that we will connect with somebody at some point. Our experiences are not so unique that we’ll never find someone like us. And beyond that, we all deserve help and to get better.

Reasons We Should Be Comparing Mental Illnesses that Doesn't Lead to Stigma

There are only a couple reasons I can think of to be making any sort of comparisons for mental illnesses that don't lead to stigma. First and foremost, to gain an understanding of how they are different so they can be properly treated. Secondly, so we can try to understand where each other are coming from so we can offer support and compassion. Mental illness is not a competition.

You can find Laura on Twitter, Google+, Linkedin, Facebook and her blog; also see her book, Project Dermatillomania: The Stories Behind Our Scars.

APA Reference
Barton, L. (2017, January 22). How Comparing Mental Illnesses Can Lead to Stigma, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 18 from

Author: Laura A. Barton

Laura A. Barton is a fiction and non-fiction writer from Ontario, Canada. Follow her writing journey and book love on Instagram, and Goodreads.

Dr Musli Ferati
January, 31 2017 at 3:37 am

Against the fact that we are complex biopsychosocial entities, it exist the innate tendency to compare one own's mental illness with others one. You are right when conclude that this comparison lead to stigma, which one impedes the adequate psychiatric treatment and management of respective mental disorder. So it is preferable to explain in functional way the nature of respective mental disorder to concrete psychiatric patient with its biological, psychological and social implications. Individual approach is the best manner to achieve satisfying outcome during long-term psychiatric treatment. It requires compassionate and dedicate work out from clinical psychiatrist toward respective psychiatric patient. Without this empathic performance, the result of psychiatric treatment should be of temporary character and not long- lived one. Once more, your mindful observation of ruinous effects of comparing personal mental difficulty with others one indicates helpful undertaking to successful psychiatric treatment of any psychiatric patient. Everyone has got pertain biological, psychosocial and sociocultural, economic and life circumstances that deserve careful elaboration from experts of mental health staff. So, it is of crucial importance to be informed with many paramedical knowledge, in order to provide meaningful psychiatric help, during daily practice. Unlike others medical branches, psychiatry is complex and broadening medical activity with many cultural and social implications.

January, 24 2017 at 8:29 am

Stigma of the Dracunulus
I have found within myself great comfort in gardening, it provides for me rebirth and regrowth. Every spring is the best time for me, and one of my first thoughts come from the movie “Bambi” when they use the word “twitterpated”. I myself feel this “twitterpation” and feel a great excitement when spring is around the corner.
In my journey, with the garden, I like to give all plants the opportunity for room and growth and find I like to hang on to the plants that may not be so desirable or struggle to flourish in the garden. Somewhat like the belief I have to seem to always root for the under dog in my real life. Not sure why, I just do.
The Dracunulus is a new addition to the garden and I struggle with making it flourish. I did see it flower a couple times and was amazed.
What's so amazing about a flower that smells of “death” and attracts flies to pollinate it?
Good question, I can only say I am curious and like to see plants overcome hardship. This flower is like no other that will grow in our zone.
By having this flower I need to make people aware before they see it, to make them aware this flower is special because of the stigma it brings.
How can a flower have stigma? “Don't plant it close to a window, it smells of death”.
I will agree with that, I will also say the smell only last a couple days as does the flower.
The rewards of having the flower out weigh the stigma of the smell ( in my view).
The voodoo lily has a new home in my garden, I moved it 2 years ago to a sunny spot in the front garden close to the sidewalk where everybody can enjoy the “Voodoo Lily” in all its glory and “full body odour”.
I just hope people can be intelligent and ask why I would have”one of those in your garden?” and I can provide them with awareness and insight of simple things in life like using the voodoo lily as a tool to show how this is so similar to mental illness. When really.... it is only doing what it knows how, being a flower, that's what it does!
I am now going to look at my voodoo lily in a new light and can't wait to see if it blooms this year. Having said that, when I did move it the bulb was only the size of a marble and may need more of a foundation before I can behold its glory again. I will invite people to the garden when I see it ready to show itself what it really is and be its voice when people run from its smell.
I have to love and appreciate a flower that can do that!
Kelly Daley

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