If someone is using a wheelchair would you question whether they need it? The answer is probably ‘no’. So why do some people question others when it comes to their mental health? A visible physical condition or disability is sometimes easier for people to process and in many ways this is understandable. But if you hear, ‘anxiety is an excuse’, ‘depression means you’re lazy’, ‘self-harm is attention seeking’ and ‘schizophrenia means you are violent’, reaching out for help with your mental health can seem impossible. In this blog, we look at how the stigma surrounding mental health conditions can impact an individual’s recovery and how we can all be more mindful when it comes to approaching others and their mental health.
What value would you place on your mental health and that of your loved ones? Did you know that more than 40% of countries in the world do not have a mental health policy and over 30% have no mental health programme? Around 25% of countries have no mental health legislation at all (Thornicroft and Maingay, 2002). Political policy is extremely important in changing the way mental health is perceived within society and to focus resources on understanding the social, economic and environmental factors that lead to poor mental health.
The media also have the ability to change how we perceive mental health they have the ability to influence the opinion of the masses. Sadly, “the frequently negative and imprecise portrayals of mental health issues in general and persons with psychiatric disorders in particular, reinforce mistaken beliefs and myths about mental illness”, (Srivastava et al., 2018). The media often links mental health to violence and portrays people with mental health problems as dangerous or criminal; in reality, people with poor mental health are more at risk of being attacked by others or harming themselves than harming other people.
“An awareness of these adverse consequences and sensitive reporting of issues relating mental illness in general and suicide in particular may contribute to reducing suicide rates and addressing stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness.“ (Srivastava et al., 2018)
We know politicians can do more to prioritise mental health and the media can do more to reduce the inaccurate portrayals of mental health conditions, but what does ‘stigma’ mean to people living with mental health conditions day-to-day. According to ‘Mind’, it is estimated that 1 in 6 people each week experience a common mental health problem in England, but many of these people will still experience discrimination through some aspect of their life. Whether the stigma comes from society, employers, friends or family, it can make people’s problems worse and delay recovery.
Watch this video of Social Worker Suzanne Baines talking to See Me about her mental health, self-harm and successfully challenging discrimination at work.
Like Suzanne, nearly nine out of ten people with mental health problems say that stigma and discrimination have a negative effect on their lives. Not only can people’s views about mental health affect individuals in the workplace, people who have mental health problems often express that they have had difficulty forming relationships, finding appropriate housing and are often not included socially in mainstream society. Low self-esteem, social isolation, poor housing, unemployment and poverty are all linked to mental ill health.
“Stigma is not primarily an issue of changing attitudes of the affected individual, but of changing public attitudes. Discrimination is not primarily a problem of individual coping, but of injustice,” (Angermeyer and Schomerus, 2012).
In the UK, The Equality Act 2010 makes it illegal to discriminate against people with mental health problems in public services and functions, access to premises, work, education, associations and transport, but we can all do more everyday to help fight stigma in mental health:
Talk: Talking openly about mental health is a good way to destigmatise. Sharing your own story can be empowering for you and for people listening who are struggling with their mental health.
Education: Educate yourself and others about mental health. Make sure you share the facts and not portrayals of mental health you may have seen or read about from unreliable sources.
Language: Make sure you use the right language. Words like “crazy”, “nuts”, “weird” are hurtful labels that are often used when talking about mental health, do not use them. Learn more about language and mental health here.
Campaign: There is a number of national and local campaigns such as Time to Change, that aim to change incorrect perceptions of mental health and share stories from individuals with lived experience.
Compassion: Show compassion for people with poor mental health, even if you haven’t experienced it yourself. Don’t forget to show compassion to yourself if you are going through a hard time. Find out more about self-care here.
Share: Social media is a platform that is used a lot amongst society, use your platform to share positive support for mental health and to share the right information about it.
Challenge: Be aware of your own attitudes and actions, challenge your own judgmental thinking. Challenge other people when they are being negative about mental health or if they have stigmatised views, let people know if they’re using harmful language.
Stigma can have a big impact on people living with a mental health condition, but we can all do more to challenge incorrect perceptions and care for our own wellbeing whilst supporting others in a fairer society too.
Schizophrenia and bipolar disorder both come with a stigma, to understand more about these conditions click below:
Click here to read more about schizophrenia
Click here to read more about bipolar disorder
To read more about what affects our mental health, click here
To read more about mental health facts and statistics, click here
Angermeyer, M. and Schomerus, G. (2012). A stigma perspective on recovery. World Psychiatry, [online] 11(3), pp.163–164. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3449353/ [Accessed 21 Sep. 2020]
Srivastava, K., Chaudhury, S., Bhat, P. and Mujawar, S. (2018). Media and mental health. Industrial Psychiatry Journal, [online] 27(1), p.1. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6198586/#ref2.
Thornicroft, G. and Maingay, S. (2002). The global response to mental illness. BMJ : British Medical Journal, [online] 325(7365), pp.608–609. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1124145/ [Accessed 22 Sep. 2020].