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October 2012
Brazilian Association of Psychiatry

Brazilian Association of Psychiatry 

Psychophobia is a Crime

(O Globo, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - June 24, 2012)

Early this year, thousands of passengers arriving daily at JFK Airport in New York City were greeted by a billboard without a welcome message or the usual scenic photo of the Big Apple. What visitors saw was a huge advertisement with the following message: “Relax, it’ll go away, it’s just temporary...’ If you don’t say that about cancer, don’t say it about depression, either.” The advertisement’s disconcerting irony reflects much of the image society still ascribes to various mental disorders: for some, mental illness is a fit; for others, a weakness. But depression is one of the most serious and disabling mental disorders. Among the ten leading causes of work absenteeism in the world, five involve mental disorders. And depression ranks first.

According to the Brazilian Ministry of Health, depression is a reality for 46 million Brazilians: 20% to 25% of the country’s population have a current or previous history of depression. Work incapacity and lack of interest and motivation to participate in routine social activities or to enjoy the things they like and with the people they love dramatically alter the daily lives of these individuals and their families and friends, with devastating consequences. Such incapacity to relate has profound and lasting effects, hindering the social reinsertion of those trying to recover from an episode of depression. 

Paradoxically, while depression and other mental disorders affect many Brazilians, the prejudice surrounding such conditions has increased in Brazilian society. The time has come to fight such discrimination, following the lead of the fight against stereotypes for gays, blacks, and women. The word “psychophobia” expresses precisely the nefarious prejudice against individuals with mental disorders and persons with disabilities.

If one should not make fun or take illnesses like cancer lightly, as emphasized by the billboard at JFK, there is no reason for mental illnesses not to be taken as seriously as they deserve, or as seriously as demanded by persons with such conditions. There are various forms of prejudice, including denial of the illness itself as something minor or temporary. As Albert Einstein said, bemoaning the sad times in which he lived, “It is easier to break an atom than a prejudice.” More than eighty years later, in 2012, such stereotypes should be fought with even greater determination. The time has come for society to treat persons with mental disorders maturely and respectfully. Psychophobia is a crime.

Antonio Geraldo da Silva

President, Brazilian Association of Psychiatry (ABP)

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