Sunday, September 23, 2012

Small Irish Poll Shows Depth of Stigma.

An article by Paul Gilligan (CEO, St Patrick's University Hospital) published in the Irish newspaper Sunday Independent has highlighted how bad stigma can be and that it is costing lives. The stigma surrounding mental illness makes people reluctant to discuss their problems and they often feel they cannot seek help.

A small poll of 300 people at St Patrick's University Hospital in Dublin produced some shocking results, even for those used to seeing how bad stigma can be. The poll showed that:

  • 20% of people believe that those suffering mental health problems are of below average intelligence.
  • Over 40% considered seeking help for mental health problems is a sign of personal failure.
  • Two-thirds expressed reluctance to hire someone with a history of mental illness, believing them to be unreliable.
  • Over 30% admitted they would not willingly accept someone with a mental illness as a close friend.

Considering that there is a probability that some participants in the research wouldn't want to admit to having a negative view, it is quite possible the true levels of stigma could be much higher.

Gilligan goes on to discuss factors that go into creating (and maintaining) the stigma. These include human factors such as fear and a lack of understanding/knowledge. Then there is denial, both by the sufferer refusing to believe they could have a mental illness, and those who don't even believe there is such a thing as mental illness.

The media cops a serve as well, with surveys from the UK in 1998 showing that sufferers consider coverage to be strongly biased towards the sensational and the negative. The media tends to show mentally ill people as 'dangerous time bombs waiting to explode' when the fact remains that the vast majority of serious crime is committed by supposedly 'sane' people.

Policy makers, clinicians and health managers also get a serve. This is due to their tendency to see mental illness as a social issue rather than a health one. A lack of specialised training, a lack of understanding and the mistaken belief that no effective treatment exists.

These are among the numerous reasons that stimatisation exists. And one of the major results is the sufferers reluctance to admit, even to themselves, that they have a problem. It took me a long time after I realised there was something wrong to admit I needed help. But there are many that will never seek help due to the stigma, and eventually they may come to the point where they can no longer cope and instead take there own lives.

Simply put, the stigma surrounding mental illness cost lives. Many, many lives.

Knowledge and education is one of the main keys to eliminating the stigma. The more people understand about mental health issues, the more understanding and accepting people will be. You can have as many rallies, petitions, meetings, etc as you want, but if it doesn't directly increase the public's knowledge or understanding, then nothing will be achieved.

If you really want to help reduce the stigma, find ways to increase peoples knowledge of mental health illnesses and issues. Not just the general public, but politicians, policy-makers and medical staff need educating as well. Get the information out to as many people as you can.

Read Gilligan's full article on the Irish Independent website.

Take care til next time.

The information contained in this blog can not be considered medical advice. These are only my own thoughts, feelings & ideas. If you or someone you know are having problems with mental illness please seek qualified medical advice.

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