The stigma of mental illness
The stigma of mental illness still exists although things are improving thanks to the efforts of high profile people such as Meghan and Prince Harry, Kate and Prince William, Robbie Williams, Ruby Wax etc. people are talking more about it. It seems obvious to me that we should be more open about mental illness, the brain is the most important organ in the body.
Ask anyone if they would rather have a leg chopped off or have dementia and most people admit they would rather lose a leg! What does that tell you? We all value our brains highly yet Governments and corporations don’t give our brains the attention they deserve. How backwards!
Mental illness takes many forms. Organic mental illness involves a physical issue with the brain such as Schizophrenia. There is decreased brain function due to a medical or physical disease for example, a stroke, a bleed or lack of oxygen.
Non-organic mental illness manifests distressing experiences.
Mental illness is pretty common and one of the most common misconceptions is that someone with mental illness is dangerous. This couldn’t be further from the truth. See my blog post on mental health and gun violence.
Some people believe mental illness is self inflicted (wrong!) or people with mental illness are difficult to talk to. Neither of these are true. Sure some people won’t want to talk but no more than in the average population.
This is why talking is important to dispel myths. Moses (2010) found that stigma directed at adolescents with mental health problems came from family members, peers, and teachers. 46% of these adolescents described experiencing stigmatization by family members in the form of unwarranted assumptions (e.g. the sufferer was being manipulative), distrust, avoidance, pity and gossip, 62% experienced stigma from peers which often led to friendship losses and social rejection (Connolly, Geller, Marton & Kutcher (1992), and 35% reported stigma perpetrated by teachers and school staff, who expressed fear, dislike, avoidance, and under-estimation of abilities. Mental health stigma is even widespread in the medical profession, at least in part because it is given a low priority during the training of physicians and GPs (Wallace, 2010).
In the UK, the “Time to Change” campaign is one of the biggest programmes attempting to address mental health stigma and is supported by both charities and mental health service providers (http://www.time-to-change.org.uk). This programme provides blogs, videos, TV advertisments, and promotional events to help raise awareness of mental health stigma and the detrimental affect this has on mental health sufferers. However, raising awareness of mental health problems simply by providing information about these problems may not be a simple solution – especially since individuals who are most knowledgeable about mental health problems (e.g. psychiatrists, mental health nurses) regularly hold strong stigmatizing beliefs about mental health themselves! (Schlosberg, 1993; Caldwell & Jorm, 2001). As a consequence, attention has turned towards some methods identified in the social psychology literature for improving inter-group relations and reducing prejudice (Brown, 2010).
For those of you that would like to test your own knowledge of mental health problems, Time to Change provides you with a quiz to assess your own awareness of mental health problems.