What is difficult about the mental disorders? Is it the symptom, diagnosis, treatment, coping, caring, or adjusting with normal life? The response would be ‘all of these’. Even at the beginning of the 21st century, the scientists are struggling with the development of a reliable scientific system, such as a blood test or an imaging study that will detect the mental disorder. For years the experts have been confirming the presence of mental disorders by primarily looking at the symptoms. Unfortunately this will continue in the future as well. Thus, mental disorders were and still remain a mystery. This leaves many of those suffering with or caring for those with mental disorder in a state of dilemma. Accepting the fact that someone suffers mental disorder becomes difficult and is then considered as a ‘taboo’ in some societies. What could be the reason for this prejudice? lack of confirmatory tests, education, or the stigma that the society or the culture places on mental illnesses?
The “Helping Professionals” including the psychiatrists, nurses, counselors, prevention specialists, and many others,play their role in helping people with mental illnesses with education, support, diagnosis and treatment. However, it is the ‘social stigma’ attached to mental disorders that makes their difficulties worse and harder to live with it.Many people suffering with mental disorders struggle to cope up with the symptoms and disabilities and at the same time are challenged by the discrimination that results from misconceptions about mental illness.
Even in the developed countries and modern societies, “mental disorder” is considered as a personality flaw rather than a serious mental illness. The book,‘Healing the Stigma of Depression –A Guide for Helping Professionals’ features the story of Reggie Marder, a strong and dedicated “helping professional” who having helped many with mental disorders, was unable to fight her own depression. Her husband recalls her as a very vibrant, fun-loving person, who tried to fight her depression in silence without even making anyone near her realize how deep rooted it was. “If we had not suffered the stigma that our culture places on depression, I am convinced that Reggie could have fought this illness successfully” writes Reggie’s husband.
Mental illness can be cured fully; the treatment is even more effective if started at the early stage, just like cancer. However, many people fear and shy away from seeking medical help, just being the victims to the stigma and discrimination they experience not only from society, but also from families, friends, and employers.
With advancing modern brain imaging techniques, scientists are working and hoping to come up with some robust diagnostic tools for mental disorders. The early diagnosis assures a full recovery. With changing scenario in medical field, should the “stigma” that judges someone based on a personal trait, hold people from getting the right treatment at the right time? Should we not try to find some ways to combat this stigma?
Over the last decade organizations such as the World Health Organization and the World Association for Social Psychiatry have recognized stigma as a major public health challenge. The strategies for management of stigma have been grouped into three approaches:Protest, education, and contact
• Protest: Protest inaccurate and hostile representations of mental illness
• Education: Education provides information so that the public understand and make informed decisions about mental illness
• Contact: Contacting and interacting with people suffering mental illnesses
Your Partner in Health,
IControlMyHealth Editorial Team
Corrigan PW, WatsonAC. Understanding the impact of stigma on people with mental illness.World Psychiatry. 2002; 1(1): 16–20.
Byrne P. Stigma of mental illness and ways of diminishing it. APT 2000, 6:65-72.