Does Stigma Prevent Equal Opportunity Support And Awareness?
February 8, 2015
We live in a world where hearing about events such as walks to cure cancer or end diabetes, marathons to prevent heart disease, and bike ride’s supporting stroke research are as commonplace as a new coffee shop opening every week. While all of these are inarguably important and worthwhile causes, it raises the question of why there are far fewer campaigns that support mental illness. Don’t get me wrong, there are essential and effective organizations who are fighting to raise funding for support and research of mental illness, such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and Mental Health America. Yet, it is undeniable that the widespread national support is not nearly as powerful as those for the above diseases; meanwhile 1 in 4 people are suffering from a mental disorder. And yet, the reality remains that mental illnesses are more common than cancer, diabetes, or heart disease
One major reason for this is that stigma surrounding mental illness and the mentally ill is still very much alive and active in today’s society. While campaigns to end stigma springing up in recent years, such as bringchange2mind, with celebrity founders like Glenn Close garnering National attention, we as a society have a long ways to go. Although the fact is that mental illness, like other disorders has an array of causes varying from biological, genetic, to social/cultural and environmental factors, millions are still left feeling stigmatized or somehow at fault for their illness.
Evidence of this can be found from the anecdotal ignorant comments on social media to the academic studies researching stigma and mental illness. I’ll spare you the frustrating and often wholly ill-informed comments that surface, and instead focus on the studies that are working to bring awareness to the reality of stigma. One recent study, surveying over 1,700 adults found the top 3 most commonly held beliefs were:
- That people with mental health problems were dangerous – especially those with schizophrenia, alcoholism and drug dependence.
- People believed that some mental health problems such as eating disorders and substance abuse were self-inflicted.
- Respondents believed that people with mental health problems were generally hard to talk to. (Crisp, Gelder, Rix, Meltzer et al., 2000)
It is precisely this sort of misinformed thinking that continues to propagate the stigma of mental illness and concurrently silence the voices of those suffering.
Perhaps what is more disturbing about these findings are the groups of people who have also been found to commonly hold stigmatizing beliefs such as teachers, doctors, family members and peers. These types of beliefs have a direct impact on the treatment outcomes of those struggling with mental illness. (Moses, 2010, & Wallace 2010) In all of these studies, a high majority of individuals were adversely impacted by stigma including disparate treatment by their employers, loss of friendship, and discouraging help seeking.
So you might be thinking “Well that’s all pretty disconcerting, but what can we do to change this?” Well, a key step is arming yourselves with the facts of mental illness so you can effectively address the myths you may encounter. Here are some great places to start:
Another positive piece of news in the fight against stigma of mental illness are findings that cognitive behavioral therapy, which specifically aims to deter stigma throughout the program and educate users on their diagnosis in order to encourage help seeking, have been successful. In a recent randomized clinical trial on a Prevail CBT intervention, users showed significant improvements on willingness to accept their diagnosis, and a reduction in perceived social norms and stigma surrounding mental illness (Voorhees 2012).
Meaningful dialogue will always be key in combating stigma, regardless of the subject. Misinformation is the biggest deterrent of progress when it comes to understanding mental illness and reducing the associated fears that often lead to stigma. Pay attention to stereotypes of mental illness and you’ll quickly understand why they have been so effective in oppressing the mentally ill for centuries. More impactful is seeking out the stories that share the day to day lives of those who have overcome mental illness and lead healthy and productive lives.
We at iPrevail love those stories, and if you check back in, you’re sure to find positivity in all the negativity.