Mental Health Stigma- does it still exist? Perhaps a bold title and question to discuss, but it’s important to openly speak about it, out of fear of otherwise, subconsciously, becoming a silent supporter of this stigma. This is a different style of post, based on lectures that I have received during my BSc in Psychology. Hope you learn something new.
The Frugal Frenchie
Defining a stigma
First of all, do you know what is meant by a stigma? It can mean several things:
“a mark or sign of disgrace or discredit”
“disqualified from full social acceptance”
“negative effects of a label”
The Institute of Psychiatry actually described a stigma as having three components: that of ignorance (as a stigma is based on preconceived ideas and assumptions), prejudice and discrimination.
Note: discrimination and stigmas are not the same. Stigma focuses more on prejudice and ill-educated statements (a reason I’m writing this post today), whereas discrimination is more of an act. An act, preventing people from being treated equally or having equal access to opportunities or services.
The Prevalence of Mental Health Stigma (MHS)
Back in 2008, the charity “Time to Change,” conducted a survey and found that:
- 87% of respondents reported a negative impact of stigma
- 46% were particularly worried about accessing employment due to stigma and feared discrimination
Although this survey is now a decade old, we have to ask ourselves- has the prevalence of MHS decreased? Only the other day I read a status about a girl who got a job, mentioned her mental health issues, and then lost the position because “they needed somebody more stable.”
The Impact on those with mental illness
What an awful feeling that must be, being turned down unfairly for being honest about your mental health! The impact though is widespread, the stigma penetrates through all areas of life.
It can make it harder to make friends, go out socially, prevent access to services (even though waiting times is something that charities such as CAHMS are trying desperately to improve), or being treated unfavourably.
Thornicroft et al., 2009, conducted a cross-sectional survey of 732 schizophrenic patients. They found that not only were they experiencing negative discrimination in the aspects mentioned above, but also that this was having an impact on their self-beliefs; they were self-stigmatising.
- 64% of them, believed their capabilities were diminished by their mental illness in regards to work, training or education.
- 55% believed it would be harder for themselves to find a close relationship
- 72% felt the need to conceal their diagnosis
Self-stigma outcomes can also include lower self-efficacy (the belief we have in ourselves to be able to do things), worse functioning, less treatment seeking and higher rates of hospitalisations.
For society as a whole, having and applying stigmas can be detrimental too. Preventing, or hindering those with mental illnesses from getting jobs, means that there’s a lack of productivity and a potential strain on the economy (which in itself is an assumption sometimes made) that could be avoided, be it through benefits, or NHS costs.
Talking about mental illness
Who can you tell? When there is a high rate of stigma, it can be difficult to be able to know who to turn to?
Where there’s stigma, there’s a lack of understanding, an increased number of negative consequences, and increased likeliness of “keeping it in.”
Do you talk to employers? A recent survey found that 1 in 5 people, said they would not tell their boss, in case they were considered less capable, treated differently or even sacked. This was clearly shown in the Channel 4 show “World Maddest Job Interview,” in 2012; where all 3 employers, said they would not employ someone with a mental illness as they “got to be on their game,” “I must be able to rely on my staff,” and they “must be fit for purpose.”
What impression is this giving??
Could you talk to school or university friends? Professors? Parents? Some people may be very open, however, for others, it may not feel like a possibility.
Some of the most frequent terms expressed during a study of mental health by Rose et al., 2007 were found to be:
Have you ever said any of these things? If so, do you think any differently about it now? If you ever hear somebody saying this, will you address them?
Mental Health and the Media
Oh golly, isn’t this an essay/rant-worthy topic. How often do we read misrepresentations of mental health patients in magazines or newspapers? Or do we read terms like “OCD” and “depressed,” just used as if a trendy word?
An example of bad media exposure, that was shown to us during my lecture, was The Sun’s headline a few years ago, that read (in a red, white and black area) “1,200 KILLED BY MENTAL PATIENTS.” What messages are conveyed by headlines like these?
It makes it seem like people with mental health issues are dangerous, unstable, or a threat to others. Again, what do you think this could do for self-stigmatisation? It also helps reinforce this stigma that films often present, about psychopaths or “crazy” people.
As a reader, if you had no exposure or experience with mental health illness, what would be your perception? Would you suddenly have negative feelings and impressions? This was only a 10-year toll, but they were not interested in highlighting that. It means nothing essentially, they don’t care of the impact, just that they sell newspapers.
Again, something to think about and address. As bloggers, influencers, perhaps journalists, what can we do to change this? Decrease the stigma? I hope you will read this post and come up with some ideas!
What can I do? What should be done?
Reduce negative perceptions:
- This can be done through positive exposure of mental health –> releasing positive headlines rather than the exceptional, rare cases
- Blog about your experience –> show what normality is, increase understanding
- Contact and ask –> increase your personal understanding by talking to people, asking how they feel and letting them know you’re there to listen
- Educate –> educate people, address myths about mental health illness, tell them what OCD really is etc.
- Boycott/protest –> when companies use a term incorrectly, or say something offensive while trying to be trendy, address them, tweet them, tell them they were wrong and ask them to change it; same with clothing brands
- Be aware of stressors –> be aware of what can trigger people with mental health problems, and see what you can do to help.
- Take part in a campaign or show your support online –> e.g. #MentalHealthMatters
Useful links if you want to know more:
I hope you can take away something from this post, whether it be asking a friend if they’re ok, apologise and refrain from using certain words in future, googling information or taking a stand, it all makes a difference.