Mental Health Stigma in 2021: Not Quite 1927

By Nancy Virden (c)2021

Since starting this ministry in 2012, my hope has been that people in my sphere who are confused by stigma would learn and grow. Oh, it is discouraging when they do not want to know the facts. When people believe stigma, they have no strong motive to expand their knowledge. You see, they are certain they already know.

This week, an acquaintance said people in the past did not have coping problems and it is only in the present that people have become “squeamish victims”. False accusations continued with statements against the characters of those who struggle, and that true heroes do not have mental health challenges in need of treatment.


Just wow.

Of course people in the past suffered from depression (once called melancholy) and anxiety (once called nervousness). PTSD was once called combat fatigue. During the twentieth century and earlier, it was accepted by professionals, the government, and citizens that any mental disorder made one unfit, or feebleminded. Many such people died young. Sometimes those who showed signs of instability were thrown into attics or locked up in institutions as subjects for experimentation. Some were tied up like dogs, kept in closets, forced to have lobotomies and sterilization. Is it any wonder few talked about it or asked for help?

The Supreme Court case Buck v. Bell (1927) decided that a Virginia law authorizing the mandatory sterilization of inmates in mental institutions was constitutional. Carrie Buck, a “feeble minded woman” whose mental illness had been in her family for the past three generations, was committed to a state mental institution and was set to undergo a sterilization procedure which required a hearing. The Supreme Court found that the Virginia law was valuable and did not violate the Constitution, and would prevent the United States from “being swamped with incompetence…Three generations of imbeciles is enough.” The Court has never explicitly overturned Buck v. Bell.

retrieved 4/7/2021 from America’s Forgotten History of Forced Sterilization – Berkeley Political Review; BY SANJANA MANJESHWAR. November 4, 2020

Perhaps this sounds like ancient torture or long ago foolishness. Forced sterilizations of mental health challenged women continued into the 1970s. People charged with crimes based only on what was perceived as odd behavior were locked up in psychiatric hospitals. One such man lived 72 years on a locked ward until someone realized he was deaf and not unstable. He was released in 1998. Police training is ongoing to help law enforcement officers understand how to respond without force to a noncriminal who is exhibiting suicidal or other unstable behaviors.

The pandemic has made coping difficult. I am grateful that pursuing treatment is considered less shameful than in the past and brings a helpful response. However, stigma still keeps people locked up in their homes, in their minds, on the streets, unloved, afraid to seek help or unable to afford it due to insurance disparity.

I have been open about my experiences for a long time. If you have lived experience with mental illness, consider sharing your story from a hopeful point of view. Reality is, it will cost you. But the more we talk about it, the fewer ignorant comments we will have to bear.


Today’s Helpful Word

Galatians 4:13-14
Surely you remember that I was sick when I first brought you the Good News. But even though my condition tempted you to reject me, you did not despise me or turn me away. No, you took me in and cared for me as though I were an angel from God or even Christ Jesus himself. 

Nancy’s latest FREE e-books! Click on the pictures for immediate access:

How the Difference Maker Lifts You Above Depressive Thoughts (c)2020

Stay at Home and Thrive! (c)2020

Always the Fight Ministries (ATFM) has been displaying compassion for those fighting mental illness, addiction, or abuse since 2012. Nancy is the founder and voice of ATFM and openly shares her emotional resurrection from despair.

NOTE: I am not a doctor or a mental health professional, and speak only from personal experiences and observations. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental or behavioral health care.

If you are feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, in the U.S. call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or for a list of international suicide hotlines, go here.

If you are suicidal with a plan, immediately call 911 in the U.S. or go to your nearest emergency room. In the EU call 112. (For other international emergency numbers, go here ). Hope and help are yours!


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