Expansionism, a mental disorder: How such notions perpetuate stigma?

22 December 2020 / By Social Media

In a recent address to the soldiers along the India-Pakistan border in Longewala in Rajasthan, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphasized the ideology of “territorial expansionism”, referring to it as a “mental disorder”. PM said “Today the whole world is troubled by expansionist forces. Expansionism is, in a way, a mental disorder and reflects 18th-century thinking. India is also becoming a strong voice against this thinking" Without explicitly mentioning any country, Prime Minister sent out a message that India today believes in the policy of understanding and making others understand.

Expansionism is when governments and states expand their territory, power, wealth, or influence through economic growth, soft power, military, empire-building, or colonialism. This form of territorial and power evolution has existed since the eighteenth century, being
attempted up till today. While the address by the Prime Minister connotated a military and political practice/policy, however, referring to such ideologies as “mental disorders” can perpetuate stigmatizing notions towards mental health and people with mental disorders.
Stigmatizing attitudes toward people with mental disorders are a well-established and global phenomenon often leading to discrimination and social exclusion. Stigmatizing attitudes may lead to individual or inter-relational discrimination, such that people with mental illness may be avoided, treated badly, or looked down upon. Furthermore, people with mental illness may project such negative labels onto themselves. Even though stigma toward mental disorders is a phenomenon observed globally, the national environment may provide variations in how and to what extent stigma is manifested.

For decades, the profession of psychological sciences has tried to combat stigma by educating the public that serious mental illnesses are diseases of the brain. Serious mental illness can have distinct physiological causes and treatments for mental illness are available, just like other illnesses. Hence, mental illness is not an attitude, like racism or sexism; and it is not a behavior, like collaborating with enemies. To treat it as such for political purposes is to deny the science underlying the diagnosis.

Also, language is political. Words do not exist in a vacuum but operate within psychosocial frameworks that help construct our experiences of the world. The way words are used establishes and persuades perceptions about various social groups (Rhodes et al 2012). It is a potent tool in describing sociopolitical power dynamics (Arens 2009). Thus it is important to remain mindful of the culture within which words are used, their histories and context, all of which are instrumental in the evolution of their meaning and future usability.


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  3. Löve, J., Bertilsson, M., Martinsson, J., Wängnerud, L., & Hensing, G. (2018). Political Ideology and Stigmatizing Attitudes Toward Depression: The Swedish Case. International Journal of Health Policy and Management, 8(6), 365-374. Retrieved from: https://dx.doi.org/10.15171/ijhpm.2019.15
  4. Playing Politics with Mental Illness. (2017, July 10). Retrieved December 16, 2020, from:  https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/beyond-schizophrenia/201707/playing-politics-mental-illness
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