Mental illness stigma a worldwide issue


Despite widespread acceptance that mental illnesses are diseases that can be effectively treated, a common “backbone” of prejudice exists that unfairly depicts people with conditions like depression and schizophrenia as undesirable for personal relationships or positions of authority.

This prejudice was found in more than 16 diverse countries included in a recent study. The countries represented a range of geographic, economic and political histories.

While the findings are discouraging, they can be used to reconfigure public health efforts to reduce stigma and to determine issues for health care providers to confront.

Stigma creates obstacles to recovery

“If the public understands that mental illnesses are medical problems but still reject individuals with mental illness, then educational campaigns directed toward ensuring inclusion become more salient,” the authors wrote.

In the U.S., stigma is considered the major obstacle to effective treatment. Stigma creates workplace discrimination as well as housing and medical care disparities, and it threatens personal relationships. Clearly stigma creates a negative impact on quality of life.

No data support the prejudice

Bernice Pescosolido, sociology professor in the IU College of Arts and Sciences and an internationally recognized expert in the field of mental health stigma, explained:

The stereotype of all people with mental illness as ‘not able’ is just wrong. No data supports this. With the prevalence of mental health problems being so high, no individuals or families will go untouched by these issues. They need to understand that recovery is not only possible but has been documented.

Leaders need to step forward and model accepting behaviors

“Forward thinking organizations base their work both on community ties and science – this works best in terms of making change efforts realistic, effective and resonate with individuals, families, providers and policymakers,” Pescosolido explained. “Hopefully the work of organizations like these can find the support necessary to create personal and institutional social change.”

Source: MedicalNewsToday, American Journal of Public Health


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