It is no secret that people who have a mental illness are discriminated against. People who have mental health problems say that the social stigma attached with mental health and the subsequent discrimination that they face, can make their difficulties worse and make it harder to recover, sometimes this can push people to suicide. Even though with each successive generation the stigma of mental illness diminishes, mentally ill people still face discrimination on a daily basis. Alarmingly 1 in 6 people will experience a mental health problem, sadly 10% of children aged between 5 to 16 years of age have a clinically diagnosed mental health problem. The most common mental illness is depression, followed by anxiety, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
A mentally ill person can often face discrimination, not only from society but also from family, friends and employers. A worrying statistic relating to negative perceptions of people with a mental illness showed that 9 out of every 10 people who had a mental illness found that the stigma and discrimination felt had a negative impact upon their lives. Sadly, people with mental illnesses such as anxiety are least likely to find a job, be in a steady long-term relationship, live in decent housing and be socially included in mainstream society. So why is this? This is because society has formulated negative stereotypes of mentally ill people, specifically to do with mentally ill people being violent and dangerous, when in reality they are more likely to be physically assaulted or harming themselves as opposed to harming others. The media do not help at all, as they often portray mentally ill people as evil, dangerous people who commit heinous crimes. Stigma and discrimination can worsen someone’s mental health problem, delay them getting help and treatment and ultimately impede their recovery.
Research has shown that the best way to challenge these stereotypes is through first hand contact with people with direct experience of mental health problems, be it mental health professionals or people with mental health issues. There are some positive initiatives that are trying to change public attitudes to mental illness, such as time to change. In the UK there is legislation under the equalities act 2010 that makes it illegal to discriminate either directly or indirectly with people who have mental health problems in the work place.
The best way to challenge stereotypes is to help people think of a mental health problem like a physical problem. For example, if a person had a broken leg would you say “Pull yourself together, you don’t need those crutches and that plaster cast on your leg”, Of course not! So why should a psychiatric injury be any different? With mental illness the brain is not functioning correctly so why should that be seen any differently to a physical injury? If somebody had brain cancer would they be told to “pull themselves together”? Sadly, this is how a lot of people perceive it. Even more alarmingly is how it is dealt with. Imagine that you have broken your leg, then you would immediately go to see a doctor. They would then give you a leaflet and put you down on a six months’ waiting list. You wait six months to then be told it might be two years before you are seen. I think you would agree that it is totally unacceptable. The sad reality is when it comes to mental health, this is exactly the process we have to follow. This is because of how mental health is viewed and is sadly a low priority.