Despite greater public awareness of mental health issues, and the prominence of mental health organisations such as Beyond Blue and LifeLine, those people actually suffering from mental health problems still carry with them a great stigma, a recent report has found.
The international study, published online by the American Journal of Public Health, found that whilst society now generally accepts mental illness a medical disease, individuals with mental illness are still stigmatized and viewed as unfavorable when it comes to such things as employment, positions of power or relationships.
People suffering from depression and schizophrenia were found to be particularly vulnerable to this prejudice.
Indeed, a 2006 Australian study found that 25% of Australians would not hire a person who they suspected suffered from depression because they felt it was a sign of personal weakness.
That same study also found that only 20% of people thought they would tell their family and friends if they were suffering from depression. This is of great concern as opinions such as these severely limit people’s access to both personal support and professional treatment and counselling.
Stigma is indeed a major impediment to helping people with mental illness for a number of reasons, including:
- Causing a devaluing of mental health issues within society which in turn hinders investment in mental health care.
- Making people shy to come forward and seek help. Sufferers worry about the implications of admitting to a mental health illness, and thereby avoid seeking diagnosis and treatment
- Creating a cycle of low self-esteem, affecting people’s capacity to recover from mental illness.
Stigma also refers on to the families of people with mental health, making it more difficult for them to be supportive.
Community education needs to continue to focus not just on acceptance of mental illness as a medical problem, but also inclusion of individuals with mental health issues in mainstream life. People with first hand knowledge of mental illness (suffered and mental health care workers alike) need to talk about their experiences and share the facts.