Welcome to another post of the WEGO Health ‘National Health Blog Post Month’!! It’s Day 21 so, the end is nearly nigh! I hope you are all enjoying the posts so far. Ready for the next one?
Today, I have chosen the prompt asking to write about mental health.
As you may now already know, I have a BSC in Psychology, and currently volunteer for a local Mental Health Charity, so this topic and area is of importance to me. I suppose, I decided to study Psychology at University and later to volunteer for a mental charity because of my own battles with mental health difficulties – that of depression and anxiety. But what I have found with studying Psychology, volunteering and living with mental health conditions myself is still the stigma attached with mental illness.
We have all been told the statistics – that 1 in 4 people will at some point suffer with a mental health conditions themselves. The statistic for the prevalence of dandruff, to compare is 1 in 5 people!! Fancy that, mental illness is more common than dandruff!! Yet, having dandruff doesn’t have the same negative stigma attached to it!!
In my 3rd year of University, I decided to study the stigma of mental health for my dissertation. The results were shocking, especially considering that the population that took part in my study were well-educated students; a generation that were supposed to be open-minded and less judgemental. However, after reading a statement regarding a hypothetical person with paranoid schizophrenia, this all changed. They deemed the person to be dangerous, less inclined to give the person a job and less inclined to give the person a place to live.
Schizophrenia although producing symptoms such as paranoia, voices inside their head, and often delusions, they are seldom a danger to others – in fact, after reading several pieces of research for my dissertation, a person with schizophrenia is more likely to be the victim of a violent attack than the perpetrator. So why the ever-increasing negative attitudes towards mental illness?
Well, it could be said that the majority of the blame could be placed at the media’s door. Although, it is said violent crimes carried out by patients exhibiting mental illness is said to be rare, there are however endless reports in the media, of patients, among them schizophrenic’s, being the perpetrators of such attacks – often resulting in the loss of life of members of the community. Although, these instances are rare, when they do occur however, they are headline news; published on the front papers with sensationalist headlines – making the connection of their mental illness and the crime.
So, although these crimes are rare, when they do occur and become headline news, they stick in our mind, therefore, making us think that they occur much more regularly than they actually do. This is known as the availability heuristic.
Perhaps, these false beliefs are also due to the lack of knowledge of such disorders – people simply, believe what they read or hear, without gaining all the facts. Fear born out of ignorance and misinformation, perhaps? Or perhaps, the mentally ill are so heavily stigmatised as they deviate from the norm, and as history has shown society has often marginalised people who are different from the society’s view as being ‘normal.’
So, how as we as health activists, and society as a whole start to destigmatise mental illness? Should media outlets encourage stories of mental illness in a positive way – show that there is hope for people who have been unwell from mental illness? To encourage celebrities and other well-known faces who has been inflicted with such illnesses, so that there is a face to mental illness; to make it less fearful and show that the mentally ill are not so different to the rest of us after all!
I have had the pleasure to meet, through my work as a volunteer to meet many wonderful people who have been touched with a mental illness, from depression to schizophrenia, and can say that they have been the most friendly and kind people I have come across.
So why still the stigma surrounding mental illness?