Myth: Reframing Mental Illness as a ‘Brain Disease’ Reduces Stigma, by Joanna Cheek

01/06/2012View on timeline


Neurobiologization can heighten the perception that mentally ill individuals are dangerous, precisely because they lack control and appear unpredictable. In addition, it contributes to erect boundaries between “healthy” individuals and mental health sufferers, now seen as biologically different. Thus, 42 percent of people interviewed in a Canadian survey would no longer socialize with a friend with mental illness, and 55 percent would not marry someone suffering from a mental disorder (Cheek 2012).


As long as it was believed that reframing mental illness as brain disease reduced stigma, the bio-biobio model could be perceived as nourishing acceptance, diversity, and human rights. Biological explanations seemed to exempt individuals from responsibility for their disease (Corrigan et al. 2002, Lopez-Ibor 2002). It turns out that this destigmatizing effect has been exaggerated and that the biological conception of mental illness has sometimes even provided new grounds for intolerance (Angermeyer and Matschinger 2005; Bennett, Thirlaway, and Murray 2008; Phelan 2005; Read and Harré 2001; Schnittker 2008).

Vidal, Fernando and Ortega, Francisco. Being Brains: Making the Cerebral Subject (Forms of Living)....

All the articles mentioned by Vidal and Ortega, beginning with the one by Joanna Cheek, are listed below.Cheek, Joanna. 2012. “Myth: Reframing Mental Illness as a ‘Brain Disease’ Reduces Stigma.” Canadian...Corrigan, W. Patrick, et al. 2002. “Challenging Two Mental Illness Stigmas: Personal Responsibility...

Lopez-Ibor, J. Juan. 2002. “The WPA and the Fight Against Stigma Because of Mental Illness.” World P...

Angermeyer, Matthias C., and Herbert Matschinger. 2005. “Causal Beliefs and Attitudes to People with...

Bennett, Laura, Kathryn Thirlaway, and Alexandra J. Murray. 2008. “The Stigmatising Implications of...

Phelan, C. Jo. 2005. “Geneticization of Deviant Behavior and Consequences for Stigma: The Case of Me...

Read, John, and Niki Harré. 2001. “The Role of Biological and Genetic Causal Beliefs in the Stigmati...

Schnittker, Jason. 2008. “An Uncertain Revolution: Why the Rise of a Genetic Model of Mental Illness...

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