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When we think of stereotypes, we think of certain behavioral patterns for an individual based on specific characteristics common to the individual’s race, ethnicity, age, body structure, or career title. The problem arises when individuals:

  • Stereotype others without having complete information.
  • Interact with others based on generalized characteristics rather than actual individual traits.

One area where stereotypes are present is the care and treatment of individuals diagnosed with mental illness.

Behavioral health professionals use a system of diagnostic criteria to establish a diagnosis for those displaying a set of symptoms common for that diagnosis. The system of diagnostic criteria has an established set of symptom aids for different illnesses or disorders to ensure consistent care and treatment of individuals. However, the system is not foolproof; it can act as a label producing an inaccurate and unrealistic stereotype of individuals undergoing treatment. For instance, the system once considered the analysis of a person’s intelligence an essential criterion for establishing a diagnosis of intellectual disability (mental retardation). However, this criterion was not accurate, as some intelligence tests use mental age as the tool to compare the intelligence of those tested to their comparable-age counterparts without intellectual deficits. For instance, an individual with a chronological age of 30 years may have a mental age of 10 years, leading to the misconception that individuals with intellectual disability are like children, which is not true.

Scholl and Sabat (2008) did an extensive literature review on issues related to defining a stereotype for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, a chronic neurological disorder. Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause of dementia, a debilitating illness causing memory loss and subsequent overall adaptive functioning loss. Scholl and Sabat concluded that individuals with Alzheimer’s disease are “extremely vulnerable to the debilitating effects of negative self-stereotyping and stereotype threat” (p. 122).

Scholl, J., & Sabat, S. (2008). Stereotypes, stereotype threat, and ageing: Implications for the understanding and treatment of people with Alzheimer’s disease. Ageing and Society, 28, 103–130.


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