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(The Care Guy)
20 commandments 19: stigma
Posted on 7:15am Monday 13th Aug 2012
20 commandments 19: Thou shalt fight the stigma of mental illness on every opportunity
The stigma associated with mental health difficulties is wide and very far reaching. It affects the social relationships of families, friends and associates, of care workers and service-users. The interactions between people are immensely significant in an individual’s life. They can provide curative support or cruel discrimination.
The same is true of the wider culture in which that person is fortunate enough, or conversely sufficiently unlucky to live. UK culture is certainly significant with the general (false) beliefs about incurability or the idea that mental disorder automatically means ‘dangerous’. These cultural perceptions lead to real problems in terms of acceptance, discrimination and employment, to name but a few. Arguably UK culture is far from helpful to people diagnosed with mental disorders.
The environment also is important. People living in run down bedsits surrounded by violent gangs of youths are less likely to feel secure than those who live in sleepy villages or well to do suburbs. The phenomenon known as ‘social drift’ is an interesting (but also depressing) example of the way that culture and environment come together to make recovery more difficult. This is the result of cultural stigmas that mean people diagnosed with mental disorders are more likely to lose work than they are to gain it. This creates economic hardship and so the person ‘drifts’ into poorer and poorer environments as their finances change.
If our service-users are to have any realistic chance of maintaining mental health and outgrowing our service they will need to find an accepted place in mainstream society – not just the isolated ‘ghetto’ the mental health day centre. And we must help them to achieve this.
So not only must we work to combat stigma directly we must also work with the service-user to help them lessen the impact of stigma when they come across it. This means helping them to develop their own supportive social group away from mental health services and also to understand that stigma is born out of ignorance and fear. It says as much about the stigmatiser as it does about the stigmatisee.
Based on the work of ‘Margreeth H.’