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  1. #1

    The Stigma of Mental Illness

    The Stigma of Mental Illness - Written by the Office of Public Health, Canadian Medical Association

    OTTAWA, Oct. 14 /CNW Telbec/ - People with a mental illness or addiction and their families and friends face two challenges: dealing with their illness and dealing with the stigma that surrounds it. Often this stigma can be as difficult to deal with as the illness itself.

    Mental illness ranges from mood disorders, including depression (which about 8 per cent of Canadians will develop at some time in their lives) and anxiety, to eating disorders and schizophrenia. The Public Health Agency of Canada says mental illnesses are caused by "a complex interplay of genetic, biological, personality and environmental factors."

    In many ways, mental illnesses resemble other health problems. They can be chronic or life-long, or episodic. They can be severe enough to be disabling, or something people live with while continuing to function day-to-day. Many patients respond well to treatment, and like heart disease or cancer, those who do not suffer from mental illness likely know someone who does.

    Where mental illnesses differs from most other diseases, however, is in the negative attitudes that surround them. Whether because of fear arising from centuries of ignorance, or hostility because people don't believe the mentally ill are 'really sick' if they are not visibly ailing, there's a lack of understanding and support for people with mental-health problems.

    As a result, many people either hide their mental illness or even deny it altogether. Studies show men are particularly likely to refuse to accept that they suffer from a mental illness, because it seems weak or self indulgent. In fact, mental illness is no more a result of personal weakness than any other type of sickness.

    The stigma of mental illness can also discourage people from getting treatment. Many try to continue to function as usual; something they would not do if they had pneumonia or a broken leg. Even those who have accepted the need for help may cut off counseling or medication too soon because they feel pressured to "get over it."

    "More education about the realities of mental illness would go a long way toward showing Canadians it is neither shameful nor threatening, but a health problem that can usually be effectively treated to the benefit of those affected, their families and the country as a whole," said Dr. Ruth Collins-Nakai, President of the Canadian Medical Association.

    Unfortunately, people who delay getting help for mental illness tend to get worse and become harder to treat. And people suffering from mental illness who don't get adequate treatment are far more likely to kill themselves than the rest of the population. Studies show they also are likely to have more trouble getting work than others, even more than people with physical disabilities.

    However, in the last decade or so, as we have learned more and developed better treatments, society has become less judgmental and hostile to the mentally ill and more people are willing to admit they have a mental illness and seek help. Many companies, offer access to different kinds of counseling through employee-assistance programs and more people are admitting they need those programs - an admission that once would have been seen as a career risk and personal failure.

    For further information: Carole Lavigne, Media Relations, (613) 731-8610
    or 1-800-663-7336 ext. 1266

  2. #2

    The Stigma of Mental Illness

    Heartart,

    You have introduced a fascinating topic that could benefit from being explored and from learning about the specific prejudices people have in keeping their mental illness a deep dark secret.

    Does it have to do with the images we grew up with seeing those colossol so called asylums where people with poorly understood psychiatric disorders were warehoused?

    What about the adverse publicity of electric shock therapy? Are people afraid they may be given treatments without their consent?

    Of coures there's one's reputation among family, friends and co workers...are people really supportive and understanding or are peole who seek treatment for mental illness just written off as "crazy"?

    It sometimes seems that enen the medical community, including some physicians are somewhat prejudiced against Psychiatrists....is it because they worry their colleagues in Psychiatry can read their minds??
    Steve

    Dum spiro spero....While I breathe, I hope

    Tourette Canada Forum

  3. #3

    The Stigma of Mental Illness

    It sometimes seems that enen the medical community, including some physicians are somewhat prejudiced against Psychiatrists....is it because they worry their colleagues in Psychiatry can read their minds??
    lol, Steve.

    Where stigma shows it's ugly presence the most is when an emergency department physician says to the psychiatry department of the hospital- "We have another nutcase here for you." There may be a case for some physicians to have to vent through humour or not taking their jobs too seriously in order to prevent burnout but I doubt very much you would hear one calling the oncology department and saying, "We have another pile of rotten cells for you." This was pointed out to happen very often in an article written about stigma and mental illness by a psychiatrist who noted that change needed to come from within the medical profession itself.

    I was impressed that the Medical Association took the time to address mental illness because it is at the bottom of the list of priorities in the medical arena and the political one too.

    A good example of stigma is to list all of the names that are used in a degrading manner that are related to mental illness.

    Nutcase
    Psycho
    Lunatic
    Schizo
    Nut
    Crazy
    Kook
    Wacko
    Fruitcake
    Weirdo
    Screwy
    Demented and on and on...

    While the above are just a few of the words used to describe those with a mental difference lets look at some of the names used to describe people with cancer.




    Can you think of any? No, because there are no words that are disrespectful or offensive for serious illnesses such as cancer.

    I do believe that the continual portrayal of psychiatric hospitals as the place where all bad things happen and that the only pictures or documentaries you see or read about are from the past, and a major reason for the continued fear and misunderstanding which feeds the stigma monster.

    If mental illness was given the funding that phyisical illnesses are given then you would see more up to date hospitals being built instead of closing what little beds we have left and replacing hospital care with family care or the street. More community funding would help but we also need specialized psychiatric care facilities.

    The hospital my family has used is brand new with the most modern architecture of primarily glass and lots of art work. It is a beautiful healing environment and built with that in mind. Much more comfortable than your regular hospital ward.

    I think fear of being at risk or vulnerable to mental illness just by the very fact that we are human is another reason that people don't want to aknowledge and talk about mental illness.

    Cheers
    Judy

  4. #4

    The Stigma of Mental Illness

    Judy,

    I worked in a profession that brought me in close contact with many physicians in Emergency, in General Practice and in Psychiatry.

    Gladly I can report never having heard any disrespectful or derogatory characterization of a patient in crisis. Sorry you had to be exposed what may have been an isolated case of a health care worker having a bad moment.

    Your original point about one' fear to confront mental illness might be related to the fact that mental illness changes who we are

    No other physical illness or disorder I know of does that, and as a result, people unfamiliar with the manifestations of the illness and who come in contact with the mentally ill patient do not or cannot make the distinction between what the patient is saying and what the illness is making the patient say.

    The result is often rejection or being ostracized from the community, in the worst case scenario.

    Re integration after being treated must be very difficult, and society is not very understanding.

    Perhaps creating awareness is the answer, getting into schools, giving in service presentations and allowing young people to actually meet and interact with someone with a psychiatric disorder under the guidance and supervision of that patient's physician..to de-mystify the illness
    Steve

    Dum spiro spero....While I breathe, I hope

    Tourette Canada Forum

  5. #5

    The Stigma of Mental Illness

    Quote Originally Posted by TSOW
    Judy,

    I worked in a profession that brought me in close contact with many physicians in Emergency, in General Practice and in Psychiatry.

    Gladly I can report never having heard any disrespectful or derogatory characterization of a patient in crisis. Sorry you had to be exposed what may have been an isolated case of a health care worker having a bad moment.
    I have never experienced this myself, Steve. Thank Goodness! This example was taken from an article written by a psychiatrist talking about how prevelent this kind of stigma behaviour is within the medical profession. He wrote an excellent article about stigma. I found it here
    How Can We Reduce the Stigma Of Mental Illness? by Jim Bolton


    Perhaps creating awareness is the answer, getting into schools, giving in service presentations and allowing young people to actually meet and interact with someone with a psychiatric disorder under the guidance and supervision of that patient's physician..to de-mystify the illness
    Yes, these are good ideas that are in practice. Public Education is very important.

    Cheers
    Judy

  6. #6

    The Stigma of Mental Illness

    Excellent thread. Thanks to both of you for some thought-provoking comments.

  7. #7

    The Stigma of Mental Illness

    I agree...good thread!

    It is interesting how people have to use these "categories" to distance themselves from people who experience mental illnesses. I think the words you mentioned above are those people's way of thinking they are not susceptible to these illnesses. Sticks and stones can break bones and word can be devastating too. Words can also be healing and helpful such as, Thank you Judy for starting this wonderful thread! I appreciate Steve and your input.

    Good topic!

  8. #8

    The Stigma of Mental Illness

    Quote Originally Posted by TSOW
    Your original point about one' fear to confront mental illness might be related to the fact that mental illness changes who we are

    No other physical illness or disorder I know of does that, and as a result, people unfamiliar with the manifestations of the illness and who come in contact with the mentally ill patient do not or cannot make the distinction between what the patient is saying and what the illness is making the patient say.
    Just a few comments. They may be a little disjointed as it is the middle of the night and my grasp of English is not all it could be right now.

    Alzheimer's is a condition where the patient's personality is changed. Yet, the social stigma attached to this disease is nil compared to the ones attached to mental illness, IMO.

    My grandmother has Alzheimer's right now. In my family, there is a strong sense that her illness is real, while my own (chronic depression, panic disorder) is not, although this is not always said in so many words. And this, even after my father commited suicide after a long battle with mental illness himself.

    It occurs to me right now that many people suffering from mental illness feel guilty for being sick and often tend towards self-deprecation. Recently, a good friend of mine has been having problems with anxiety and has had to look into getting therapy and meds. When talking to me about it, he often refers to himself as being crazy, something he would never call me, even though we suffer from similar symptoms. I've called him on it, but I know that he feels guilty that he has an anxiety disorder and is sort of punishing himself for not being able to deal with it on his own. Also, my friend can talk to me about his mental health, as I've been there and done that, but feels he cannot let on to his collegues at work for fear that he will be seen and treated differently and that his career will be irreversably affected.

    I'm sure we can all relate to this. I know I've felt the same way.

    So yes, at the risk of repeating what everyone else has said, more public education, as well as advocacy, would be a great deal of help in reducing prejudices and helping the mentally ill obtain better treatment. It's a no-brainer, really, if you'll pardon the awful, awful pun...

    G'night!
    Mel

  9. #9

    The Stigma of Mental Illness

    It has always puzzled me as to why people with mental health problems are seperated from everyone else, we have to go to "pyschriatrict " hospitals, or mental health resource centres where all "our" people are based, these places are very often seperate from ordainary hospitals, clinics and social work departments, this just reinforces the stigma, no wonder people see mental illnesses as different, even dangerous sometimes, because we are isolated and seperate from other places where people get treated for their illnesses, we should be seen in ordainary hospitals and then people might understand that mental illness is a illness like any other.

  10. #10

    The Stigma of Mental Illness

    Hi Eyes,

    It is unfortunate the way that mental health issues are dealt with in so many ways. During my training it was repeatedly pointed out that a person is not the disorder instead a person WITH a disorder. I am an advocate for better mental health treatment, services and such. The saddest part to having a mental illness is the shame/blame game. There should be no shame for experiencing an illness of any kind, medical or mental.

    It is important to me to treat all of my clients with dignity, respect and unconditional positive regard.

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