STIGMA & DISCRIMINATION: Saving the SAD Generation

MENTAL ILLNESS: Stigma and Discrimination


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Mental illness attracts less empathy and more distrust than other forms of illness. People may consciously or unconsciously blame the people with mental illness for their condition, implying a character flaw rather than a disorder.

Another misconception is that mental illness is a “life sentence” with no chance of recovery.

Some people believe that those with mental illness are unable to contribute to society: that they cannot work, study, be good parents, or take on other roles. In fact, the experience of mental illness varies widely in terms of symptoms, treatment and life impact. Some people experience only a single episode. Others have an illness in which episodes recur and they need ongoing management and treatment, but some will be well much of the time.

One of the keys to effective treatment and management is early identification of mental health problems. Negative stereotypes deter people from acknowledging the early signs of mental health problems in themselves or a loved one. Many people do not seek help until symptoms are pronounced and there has been considerable disruption to their lives.

As a human being, be aware of your own values and assumptions about mental illness and other contentious issues. Because this is a complex area and people have varying experiences, make sure that your research is thorough and that you know the details of any specific case, rather than relying on popular ideas about mental illness.

Public attitudes and awareness

Over the years, many forms of discrimination have declined in our society, although there is still room for improvement in many areas. It has become socially and legally unacceptable in most settings to discriminate against or ridicule someone on the basis of their race, religion, sexuality or a physical disability. While the stigma associated with a number of health and social issues has gradually improved, there is still considerable stigma associated with mental illness.

Mental illness often generates misunderstanding, prejudice, confusion and fear. Some people with mental illness report that the stigma can at times be worse than the illness itself. People may be less willing to offer support and empathy if someone is experiencing a mental illness rather than a physical health problem. Those with a history of mental illness may find that others become uncomfortable or distrustful around them and that they lose contact with family and friends. People who are known to have had mental illness may find it more difficult to find employment or get a promotion, even if they are well at the time.



Some studies have suggested that certain disorders attract greater stigma and prejudice than others. A study in the United Kingdom found that schizophrenia, alcoholism and drug addiction attracted the most negative ratings among the public, with a high proportion of respondents saying that people with these disorders were unpredictable and dangerous. A significant proportion of respondents reported that people with severe depression could simply ‘pull themselves together’, reflecting a very negative and inaccurate view of this disorder.

Stigma may stop people from seeking help when they experience mental health difficulties. Those who become concerned about the mental health of themselves or someone they’re close to may be reluctant to talk to others about the situation. Often people do not want to acknowledge their need for support or simply don’t know how to raise the issue with family, friends or health professionals. This is a serious problem, since early identification and treatment is generally associated with better outcomes.

Stigma may be linked to poor understanding of an issue and being unable to relate to the experiences of those who are affected. We are more likely to empathise with a person if we understand something about their circumstances and feelings. Our society has a long history of people distancing themselves from those with mental illness, by social isolation and by institutionalisation. This distance ensures that most members of the public do not become familiar with the real experiences of those living with mental illness.

Understanding mental illness

While the importance of information about physical health is widely acknowledged, society’s understanding of mental health and mental illness is far less comprehensive. Many people do not distinguish between the terms mental health and mental illness. A person with good mental health has the capacity to participate in and enjoy activities and relationships, cope with challenges such as personal problems and work toward achieving their goals.

Mental health is about balance in our thoughts, feelings, behaviour and relationships with others. A mental illness is a severe or prolonged disruption in these, which has a negative impact on our normal lifestyle. Research has shown that most people can not correctly recognise mental disorders and do not understand the meaning of psychiatric terms. Most do not appreciate that there are many different disorders under the broad category of mental illness.

Stereotypes

There are a number of negative stereotypes of the people with mental illness, arising perhaps from unusual behaviour in some people when they are unwell. We tend to feel uncomfortable when a person’s behaviour does not conform to social expectations. Because those with a mental illness can experience disruption of their normal thoughts and feelings, their behaviour may seem odd, annoying or unpredictable. People sometimes fear that those with mental illness may become violent, although research shows that only a small proportion of people with mental illness are prone to violence toward others. Violence is more strongly associated with drug and alcohol use than with mental illness.

Some people may – consciously or unconsciously – blame people with mental illness for their disease, implying that the illness indicates a weakness or character flaw. Many do not realise that mental disorders are frequently associated with an underlying biological or genetic factor; there is an interaction between genetics, lifestyle and environment. This is also true of a number of other diseases – including diabetes, asthma and heart disease – which are associated with much less discrimination and blame than mental illness.

Another misconception is that a mental illness represents a lifelong disorder, with little chance of recovery. In fact, many people experience only one episode of a mental illness – such as depression or a psychotic disorder – and then recover. Some people have an illness which recurs during their life, but many are well much of the time and the illness can often be managed successfully.

Like others in our community, people with mental illness may wish to pursue study, work opportunities or personal interests. Mental illness should not be equated with reduced intellectual capacity or ability. People with recurrent illness (of any type) may need time off from work or school occasionally. Others may be unable to work or choose not to work, but as a society we should avoid assumptions about those with mental illness.

Discrimination against a person on the basis of a disability – physical or psychiatric – is not acceptable.



Some people retain the idea that those with mental illness should be separated from the rest of society in an institutional setting. Isolating people with a mental illness may sometimes add to their distress and certainly perpetuates social distance and community distrust. With increasing knowledge of mental illness, there are now a range of treatment and support options. Most people remain at home or have only short hospital stays and many will have only one or a few episodes of illness in a lifetime.

Reducing stigma

Reducing stigma requires community education and willingness among individuals to challenge others when discrimination occurs, or when negative stereotypes are used to describe those who have mental illness. Public education campaigns have been run through the media, to challenge the stigma associated with mental illness. Strategies have also been developed to ensure that journalists have access to accurate, up-to-date information so that reports will not unintentionally reinforce negative stereotypes (see www.mindframe-media.info).

As individuals, we can also challenge stigma by discouraging the use of negative language or stereotypes. Words like ‘psycho’ or ‘schizo’ have negative connotations and are usually used inaccurately or as terms of derision. They trivialise the impact of a serious illness. We can also challenge people’s misconceptions of mental illness, by gently pointing out the facts – that mental illness is quite common, that recovery and management are possible and that people are not to blame for their illness.

Thanks to: www.responseability.org

Don’t Allow the Stigma keep Your Suffering Alive….

Some of the worst discrimination and stigma faced by people suffering from mental illness comes from their health-care providers, the chairman of the Mental Health Commission of Canada says.

Michael Kirby exhorted Canada’s doctors yesterday to “demonstrate a commitment to healing” by tackling head-on the myths and stereotypes about people with mental illness.

“I challenge you to help us change public attitudes, to help reduce stigma and discrimination. You can play an invaluable role in improving the lives of people living with mental illness by becoming a community leader on the stigma issue,” he said in an address to the 141st annual meeting of the Canadian Medical Association.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada, created in 2008, has among its priorities the development of a national mental-health strategy and a long-term stigma-reduction campaign. …

“There must be a conscious decision that mental illnesses are medically important,” Dr. Milliken said.

CANADA – CANADIAN MENTAL HEALTH CONFERENCE – JUNE 21-22, 2012


References

Crisp, A. H., Gelders, M. G., Rix, S., Meltzer, H. I. and Rowlands, O. J. (2000). Stigmatisation of people with mental illnesses. British Journal of Psychiatry, 177, 4-7.
Hayward, P., & Bright, J. A. (1997). Stigma and mental illness: A review and critique. Journal of Mental Health, 6, 345-354.
Hocking, B. (2002). Reducing mental illness stigma and discrimination – everybody’s business. Schizophrenia Supplement, 78, S47 – S48.
Jorm, A. F. (2000). Mental health literacy: Public knowledge and beliefs about mental disorders. British Journal of Psychiatry, 177, 396-401.
Noffsinger, S. G., & Resnick, P. J. (1999). Violence and mental illness. Current Opinion in Psychiatry, 12, 683-687.
Torrey, E. F. (1994). Violent behaviour by individuals with serious mental illness. Hospital and Community Psychiatry 45, 653-662


Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW) (also known as Mental Health Awareness Week) was established in 1990 by the U.S. Congress in recognition of efforts by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) to educate and increase awareness about mental illness. It takes place every year during the first full week of October. During this week, mental health advocates and organizations across the U.S. join together to sponsor a variety of events to promote community outreach and public education concerning mental illnesses such as major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. Examples of activities held during the week include art/music events, educational sessions provided by healthcare professionals, advertising campaigns, health fairs, movie nights, candlelight vigils, and benefit runs.

An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older – about one in four adults – suffer from a diagnosable mental illness in any given year. However, stigma surrounding mental illness is a major barrier that prevents people from seeking the mental health treatment that they need. Programs during Mental Illness Awareness Week are designed to create community awareness and discussion in an effort to put an end to stigma and advocate for treatment and recovery.

Mental Illness Awareness Week also coincides with similar organizational campaigns in early October such as World Mental Health Day (World Federation for Mental Health), National Depression Screening Day (Screening for Mental Health), and National Day Without Stigma (Active Minds).


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