The Psychiatric Times has an interesting article discussing whether bigotry should be classified as a mental illness. The author concludes no, but the discussion gives an important insight into how we decide what is a mental illness and what is not.
Most people might think that an opinion, no matter how disagreeable, shouldn’t get someone diagnosed with a mental disorder.
The difficulty comes when deciding what criteria you should use to decide that someone’s mental state has gone beyond what is normal and should be considered an illness.
Generally, if a mental state is considered to cause distress or impairment, it’s considered to be a sign of mental illness. … – mindhacks
A belief that 1 + 1 = 1000 is not a mental illness, it is an addition error. It can be corrected with education. Similarly, Xenophobia, an irrational fear of some outsider group, results from a flawed mental computation.
Here is an example. Pretend for a moment that I am an Orange Bigot…
The Orange Bigot
Hello. I want to show you this picture of about 100 oranges. Some of them are long and yellow, some of them are small and purple, but they are all oranges and they sicken me. These oranges are all the same. They are disgusting little parasites that attach themselves to trees. They suck the life blood from trees all over the planet. God, I hate these worthless animals. They are everywhere you look. These are your problem, people. Someone should smash them all.
Get it? What you don’t know is that in the above example, the writer once tried to eat a moldy orange. He had a genuine bad experience. This was followed by exposure to someone who taught him the wrong information he is now passionately expressing. He never learned about bananas, grapes, pears or apples, and so, he is blind to them. Bigotry is learned. It causes the carrier to live in fear and to miss out on some really good stuff.