Mental Health Stigma

Despite the increase in publicity surrounding mental health and mental health issues, there is still a lack of understanding about mental health in general. For example, a research survey published by the government “Attitudes to Mental Illness 2007″ reported that 63% of those surveyed described someone who is mentally ill as suffering from schizophrenia, and more than half believed that people with mental illness should be kept in a psychiatric ward or hospital. Overall the results showed that positive attitudes to people with mental health had actually decreased since 1994 which is worrying indeed.

Amazingly, many people still don’t understand that mental health problems affect most of us in one way or another, whether we are suffering from a mental illness ourselves or not. If we bear in mind that a quarter of the population are suffering from some kind of mental health problem at any one time, then the chances are, even if we personally don’t have a mental illness, we will know someone close to us who does, so it is our responsibility to understand what mental illness is and what can be done about it.

Many people with mental health problems will often feel isolated and rejected and too afraid to share their problems with others purely because of the way they might be perceived. This lack of understanding means they are less likely to get the kind of help and support they need and are in danger of slipping even further into depression and mental illness. People need to understand that mental illness need not be a barrier to a better quality of life and that help is available and that most people with a mental health problem can regain full control over their lives if they get the support they need.

A new guide to mental health

The Royal College of Psychiatrists has produced a new guide to mental health which was published in November 2007 and is aimed at informing the general public about what mental illness is and is a big step towards tackling the stigma that is still attached to mental illness.

The guide is written in an easy to understand format and over 60 mental health experts have contributed to it. The Mind: A User’s Guide contains chapters that cover a whole range of mental illnesses and includes a section on how the brain works, how mental illness is diagnosed, and how to cope with it.

A Scottish survey

In Scotland, a national survey of public attitudes to mental health Well? What Do You Think? (2006) was published in September 2007 and highlighted that although people living in socially deprived areas have a higher incidence of mental health, the level of stigmatisation is still no lower than in other areas. This suggests that being confronted with mental illness is not enough to change the attitudes towards it.

There are also gender differences too. According to the Scottish survey, men with a mental health problem were more likely to be treated with suspicion than women and were also more inclined to avoid social contact with someone else with a mental health problem. Even out of those who displayed a positive attitude towards people with mental health problems, many said they would be reluctant to tell anyone if they had a mental health problem themselves which just goes to show that there is still fear surrounding other peoples’ perceptions of mental health.

A CIPD Survey

A recent study conducted by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and KPMG consultants surveyed over 600 employers and reported that doctors are not doing enough to help people with mental health problems return to work and that this is costing the business world billions of pounds. For example, only 3% of the participants rated doctor support as “very good”.

It may be that doctors really don’t know what else to offer someone suffering from depression and anxiety other than drugs and time off work. Even more worrying was the fact that 52% of employers maintained that they never hired anyone with a history of mental illness which serves to perpetuate the stigma. On a more positive note, of those that did hire someone with a mental health problem, more than half said the experience had been “positive”.

Changing attitudes

A lot is being done by governments and organisations to try to change public attitudes towards mental health but is it enough? Until we all recognise that mental illness doesn’t discriminate, it can affect any one of us at any time regardless of our age, gender or social background, the stigma attached to mental illness is likely to persist.

Mental illness doesn’t discriminate, it can affect any one of us at any time regardless of our age, gender or social background, and yet the stigma attached to mental illness still persists. Although a number of government initiatives, awareness campaigns and organisations have been set up specifically to tackle mental health stigma and change our attitudes towards mental health in general, there is still a long way to go.

It is therefore up to each and every one of us as individuals to make sure we are well informed and understand the issues involved because only when the public are fully aware of the facts will mental health stigma become a thing of the past.

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