05 August 2013 ~ 0 Comments

Leave the Stigmas Behind

Author: mohec-admin

If I labeled you as, “crazy,” “stupid,” “lazy,” “incompetent,” “a monster,” or “a drama queen,” I would venture to guess that you would not find that flattering. As children we might be told, “Sticks and stones may break our bones…”, and hurtful words are not a big deal. What that childhood mantra does not take into account is the detrimental inertia words can manifest into false and disdainfully pre-conceived notions that affect the way we treat other people. Stigmas are a toxin that fosters ignorance and discrimination. Treatment of mental illness is one particular area in the health-care industry plagued by stigma, which subsequently poses road-blocks to patients from obtaining necessary treatment. Before we can brainstorm methods to eradicate social stigmas surrounding mental health, the nature of the issue itself must be understood.

The Social Side

The various social circles we inhabit – our families, professional organizations, schools, and community networks provide a means to enrich our lives. For people suffering from mental illness, chances to improve their quality of life are somewhat dwindled. Prejudice spawned from misconceptions concerning the nature of mental illness withhold sufferers of mental illness from establishing safe housing arrangements and affiliations with a variety of social acquaintances (Corrigan & Watson, 2002). Securing desirable employment positions is a challenge for people bearing mental illnesses due to discriminatory behavior employers practice (Corrigan, 2004). Family and friends may not even be the most dependable group to confide in when coping with mental illnesses. Participants in a focus-group study comprised of patients diagnosed with schizophrenia overwhelmingly reported their family-members and neighbors expressed a lack of interest in learning about the disease and avoided social-interactions with the participants (Schulze & Angermeyer, 2003). Social circles are not the only potential barriers to achieving an optimal health status for patients diagnosed with mental illness.

The Clinical Side

Relations between professionals and patients with mental illness in clinical settings are also in need of revision. For the schizophrenic patients in the focus-group study, negligence permeated beyond their social life. The encounters with doctors of one patient echoed the disregard fielded from family members, as treatment was often administered by doctors without assessing the personal concerns of the patient and without reviewing the history of the patient’s illness (Schulze & Angermeyer, 2003). Without having the necessary support from health care providers, or friends and family to manage a mental-illness, for patients that must feel like trying to climb Mount Everest without oxygen, or being stranded in the middle of the ocean without a life-jacket. My suggestion to help the mentally-ill that feel isolated and helpless – promote a culture of supporting people struggling with mental-illnesses, not a culture of judging patients diagnosed with mental-health diseases. Raising awareness of an issue is a great starting point to creating seismic changes in a culture.

What can be done?

Despite the initial bleak outlook on the topic, hope and optimism can be found in work being done by awareness campaigns aimed at debunking stigmas surrounding people dealing with mental health illness. While you watch television, listen to the radio, or read a popular magazine, you probably will see or hear an advertisement for the Bring Change 2 Mind national campaign to address stigma and mental health. With the star-power of several celebrity partners, such as musician John Mayer and actress Glenn Close, and continuous promotional efforts, Bring Change 2 Mind provides a shining example of how we should address this issue – by raising awareness. Although most of us are not friends with international household names, we can still make strides in eliminating stigmas by fronting similar awareness efforts in our communities and other social circles. Even on a micro level, we can all make a positive impact by reaching out to those we know struggling with mental illnesses, or by reinforcing to others that the way we treat others should not be defined by their diagnosis of a mental disease.

Links

Take the pledge to “Stand up against the stigma of mental illness,” and learn more about Bring Change 2 Mind at http://www.bringchange2mind.org

Check out this video from the IWK Health Centre & the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC) that raises the questions we should be asking about the issue of social stigma and mental health:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LTIZ_aizzyk

References

Corrigan, P. (2004). How stigma interferes with mental health care. American Psychologist, 59(7), 614.

Corrigan, P. W., & Watson, A. C. (2002). Understanding the impact of stigma on people with mental illness. World Psychiatry, 1(1), 16.

Schulze, B., & Angermeyer, M. C. (2003). Subjective experiences of stigma. A focus group study of schizophrenic patients, their relatives and mental health professionals. Social science & medicine, 56(2), 299-312.

Ryan Manganelli is an undergraduate student studying nutrition and fitness at the University of Missouri. For the summer of 2013, Ryan worked as an intern with MOHEC to assist with a variety of projects, such as building our collaborator database and developing a research question concerning women’s health. Following his baccalaureate graduation next May, Ryan’s academic endeavors will continue in pursuit of a master’s in public health in the fall of 2014. In the future, he hopes to work in addressing health disparities and general health promotion in community-based settings.

The opinions and views expressed in this blog and/or comments are those of the author(s) and do not reflect any position of the Center or the University.

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