I was reading about mental illnesses and then thought one day that the uninformed regard mental illnesses the same way leprosy was regarded.

I looked up about leprosy and some papers and articles about how mental illness is a modern-day leprosy, but I can't seem to find as to what exactly is the relation, if they are even thinking the same thing I am.

So far I know, it is observed that the uninformed are not giving them the treatment they need. Specifically, why are the uninformed not giving them the treatment they need?

Is it accurate and precise to say that mental illness is regarded as modern-day leprosy since:

  1. In ancient times (or Jesus's time), uninformed people believed people who had leprosy had leprosy because they committed a grave sin or sins

  2. In modern times, uninformed people believe people who have mental illnesses have mental illnesses because they committed gravely immoral actions (see how I avoid the non-secular word "sin") ?

Take for example a drug or gambling addict. Drug and gambling addictions are mental illnesses, but an uninformed person would look at a drug or gambling addict and say that the reason that they have these sicknesses is that they started taking drugs or gambling, the immoral action.

However maybe an informed person would say that the reverse is the case: the immoral actions of starting to take drugs or gamble is caused in part by the illness that the person had or the biological, psychological or environmental predispositions that the person had.

Other examples would include procrastination, overeating or hyperactivity.

Bottom line, is it accurate and precise to say that the term "modern leprosy" is in reference to thinking:

You're crazy because you did evil things

rather than

You did evil things because you're mentally ill ?

This question may not be very clear so please recommend how I can improve this question.

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ prima facie, it's because mentally ill people are shunned in various ways "leper a person who is shunned or rejected by others for moral or social reasons." $\endgroup$
    – user7852
    Commented Oct 6, 2015 at 8:16
  • $\begingroup$ Psychologists are writing with a duty to care for those who suffer psychologically - especially in this context, those with mental health problems. But you're right that the term "modern day leprosy" is used to critique the common idea that people with mental health problems are evil - or better "immoral", or just contemptible for any reason at all. Whether or not the psychologists who complain about these common attitudes, are actually doing any good in doing so. $\endgroup$
    – user7852
    Commented Oct 6, 2015 at 10:17
  • $\begingroup$ @user3293056 How can you suffer psychologically without having a mental health problem? $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 11, 2015 at 15:31
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This question is very interesting but I believe will not receive a satisfying answer on CogSci, partly because it is primarily opinion based. Perhaps you have a better chance of finding an answer at Philosophy. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 16, 2016 at 9:17
  • $\begingroup$ I think your premise is faulty. Leprosy of the Bible (tzara'at in Hebrew) is not modern leprosy (Hansen's Disease). The tzara'at described in the Bible is a divine act from God that can afflict persons or houses or clothing. It was not a natural disease. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 24, 2017 at 20:10

1 Answer 1


This term depicts a wide spread problem in society that the term 'mental illness' carries with it stigmas and negative connotations.

Firstly, From a psychologist's perspective, we want people with mental illnesses to recognise them and seek help/treatment so that the problem can be solved. However, negative labels often cause people to ignore signs of mental illness. The effect is that fewer people with problems are seeking help from them, causing them and those around them to suffer for it.

Secondly, mental illnesses carry no moral significance or worth. An individual afflicted by a mental illness has done nothing to deserve it. It is unfair on them to be ostracized for something beyond their control, however this is often what happens with mental illnesses.

Leprosy has been greatly feared and shunned for thousands of years by humans everywhere. An individual with leprosy would be separated from the society and would be forced to survive on their own or find a leper colony if they were lucky. This is similar to how many people suffering mental illness suffer today. Often they cannot take care of themselves, and are shunned regardless of their suffering.


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