Stigma in mental health has been prevalent for centuries. Most of us within society still view the symptoms of mental health problem as unpredictable and dangerous. For decades, individuals suffering with psychiatric problems, such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, are considered insane or “mad”. They often have to face exclusion either within society, workplace, and at times even within ones own family.
Anxiety, Depression, Substance use are still considered as signs of weakness and not as biological disorders of brain. These are treatable health problems like any other medical conditions to which people refuse to seek professional help due fear of exposure and stigma.
There is no denying that the society is becoming more aware than before, especially with many high profile celebrities such as Deepika Padukone or Catherine Zeta-Jones discussing openly about their illnesses in media. Yet, there are some firmly held beliefs and stigmatising attitudes that continues to prevail in our society.
The stigma can be of two types: A social stigma, which is a discriminating attitudes against those suffering from mental health problems as a result of the psychiatric diagnosis/label they have been given. The second is a perceived stigma, which is their perceptions of discrimination, internalised by mental health sufferers. It can significantly lower their self esteem, instil a feeling of shame, and most importantly leads to poor treatment outcome.
Following are some commonly held misconceptions and beliefs-
1) The common being that people suffering from mental health problems are dangerous and violent, especially those with schizophrenia or bipolar.
2) Some believe that problems of depression and anxiety are part of normal living and can be dealt with by just “being positive”and “being more social”.
3) There is a general belief that eating disorders and substance abuse are self inflicted.
4) Still many consider that people suffering from mental health problems such as schizophrenia, depression, bipolar are unemployable.
5) Getting “dependent” or “addicted” to psychiatric medicine is another common misconception that is widespread, even amongst the educated.
Research suggests that significant number adolescents with mental health problems face stigma and discrimination within their own family, peers, teachers and school staffs. Surprisingly, there is a widespread stigma amongst the medical professionals as mental health is given low priority by hospitals, physicians and doctors of other specialties.
What has caused stigma?
Historically, the cause of mental health problems were believed to be due to demonic or spirit possession, such explanations would almost certainly give rise to reactions of fear and discrimination. Media too had played an important role in perpetuating stigmatising stereotypes of people with psychiatric problems. The cinematic depictions of ECT (electro convulsive therapy) or so called “Shock treatment”, or schizophrenia are often stereotypic and characterised by misinformation about mental health symptoms and its treatment. There is strong negative portrayal of schizophrenia in movies, showing the schizophrenia characters as being violent, homicidal and aggressive.
Stigma not only leads to social exclusion, low esteem, poor quality of life, but also poorer treatment outcomes and recovery from mental problems. It has been seen that people tend to hold to these stigma regardless of their age, background or education. Stigma is evident in the way laws, social services, and the justice system are structured as well as ways in which resources are allocated. The solution may not be so simple but needs to be multifaceted. Simply raising voices and providing information will not help, but their is a need to challenge the existing negative stereotypes especially as they are portrayed in general media as well.