Stigma - Are Things Improving?

I have often said in this blog that I feel the problem of stigma is gradually improving. In my experience, I have rarely had problems with the general public or neighbours, for example. I do not, however, go around with my diagnosis tattooed on my forehead, so to speak. So, while I behave like an ordinary human being, I suppose the problem of other people's knowledge (or lack thereof), attitudes and behaviour would not come up unless I told them of my illness. This can be a problem in itself, though, as judging who and when to tell can open up a minefield of possibilities. Would I be rejected? Would people have a different opinion of me, if they knew? I suppose only in being completely open and public about my illness could I be sure about such issues.
Anyway, the national "Time to Change" campaign, set up to tackle the problem of stigma around mental ill health, has published figures which would seem to indicate that I am correct in thinking that this problem is on the wane. They report a 4% reduction in actual discrimination experienced by those with mental illness. The figures are based on a survey carried out on 1000 people who are currently being treated for a defined mental illness and who are living in the community. The reduction was evidenced in the survey carried out in 2010, and remained consistent in 2011.
The problem of public attitudes towards, and knowledge about, mental ill health, however, seems to be a trickier issue. "Time to Change", while still reporting a 0.8% improvement in public attitudes in 2011, also states that this figure represents a drop in improvement from the previous period of 2008 to 2010, when a 2.2% improvement was seen. They state that this is consistent with international research which suggests that attitudes towards "vulnerable" groups can harden during periods of recession and unemployment. The project, then, which has received millions of pounds in funding, would appear to want us to concentrate on the reduction in discrimination, their comments on this on their website reading as follows: "The crucial thing is that the reduction in actual experiences of discrimination has been sustained."
However, I would suggest that it is often problems of knowledge and attitudes that lead to actual instances of discrimination. Don't such things, as it were, all begin in the mind? If we can't change people's attitudes, how can we change their behaviour?
Furthermore, it would appear, from looking over some other articles on the internet, that purely educational campaigns to reduce stigma are not all that successful. It has been said that TTC's own "1 in 4" message actually had little effect in changing people's attitudes towards those with experience of mental illness. More effective, it seems, is actually knowing someone who has had or has a mental illness, or meeting someone who is open about it. Admittedly, then, "Time to Change" say that their "key principle" is built on "social contact", and indeed they have created a number of events where there are, as it states on their website, "opportunities for members of the public to come into contact with people who are open about their mental health problems." They also claim that there is a clear and consistent link between their own campaign and "improved knowledge, attitudes and behaviour around mental health."
So, anti-stigma campaigning in itself can be problematic, as one is never entirely sure of the effect, or lack of effect, one is having. This is something we are only too familiar with at the Media Action Group for Mental Health. And our own, perhaps more subtle, approach to changing attitudes, may or may not be working in our local community. Overall, then, it may be fair to say that unless you have experience of, have met, or know someone with, mental illness, the chances of you even being concerned with such issues is slim. It may be that, as with many other things, we are not really bothered about them until they land on our own doorstep.
I would just say though, that if you do fancy bettering your knowledge around, or changing your attitude towards, mental ill health, why not read this blog?        


Morgana said…
ordinary human beings are mad human beings.
David said…
Dear Morgana,
I like your somewhat enigmatic comment, and find myself that we can all, in our ordinariness, actually be quite "mad". I think it was Charles Bukowski who entitled one of his books, "Tales of Ordinary Madness."
What is defined as "mental illness" also, I think, raises the question of what is "normal", or "ordinary" at all? Having been diagnosed with a mental illness, this question became more stark for me, and perhaps you noticed that the sub-heading of my blog is "the passing thoughts of your normal, average delusional and paranoid man."
Thank you for your interest.
Best Wishes,
klahanie said…
Dear David,
A topic that you and I have discussed on numerous occasions.
As you know, generally speaking, I have observed a reduction in those who persist in stereotyping and stigmatising those with mental health concerns.
I have discovered a genuine willingness to try to understand more about mental health conditions and the nature/nature aspects to it all.
Setting aside the campaigns such as "Time to Change", the crucial impact to increase awareness and further reduce the stigma, comes from informative and heartfelt blogs such as yours. I will continue to try to send folks your way. You have an important message and I believe it should be read and absorbed. To quote, "I would just say though, that if you do fancy bettering your knowledge around, or changing your attitude towards, mental ill health, why not read this blog?"
Take very good care and talk soon.
In kindness and respect, Gary
David said…
Dear Gary,
Thank you for your comment and also your continued efforts to send people "my way". Like you, I do hope that more people take an interest in order that the unfair stigma surrounding mental ill health can be overcome. I suppose and hope that this blog is my own little way of adding to our burgeoning anti-stigma cause.
Take care, Gary, and yes, we shall speak soon.
Very Best Wishes,
bazza said…
Hi David. I think most negative attitudes towards mental illness are based on irrational fear, born of ignorance, rather than anything else.
A .2% change is not 'statistically significant' but at least it's in the right direction!
Click here for Bazza’s Blog ‘To Discover Ice’
David said…
Dear bazza,
I think you may be right in saying that most prejudice around mental illness is born of ignorance. That is why it is important to improve people's knowledge. Unfortunately, as my post suggests, this is often quite a tricky thing to achieve through campaigning. But, as you say, at least we are moving in the right direction!
All the best, bazza,
dcrelief said…
["However, I would suggest that it is often problems of knowledge and attitudes that lead to actual instances of discrimination. Don't such things, as it were, all begin in the mind? If we can't change people's attitudes, how can we change their behaviour?"] - David

Dear David,
The above quote from your article says it all for me. It was a great pleasure to give up on what other people thought of me. Such freedom as I realized, "what if I don't like their mental development?" What if ordinary people just bore me? The awareness came that I could choose whom to speak with about my life. I stopped treating every family member, friend, or stranger, as if they were councillors. In short, it's none of my business what others think of me. I don't have THEIR brain so I don't know how they operate!!

How do we change their attitude? I choose to ignore it. The world is full of wonderful people who would like a friend. I am able to validate myself and my progress... it's a gift they simply cannot comprehend. Who knows? I might one day change my mind, via a brain transfer! Maybe not.

Thanks David; this was an enjoyable read. Keep the faith.
David said…
Dear Dixie,
Yes, the business of trying to "change people's minds" is not an easy one. And, as you say, perhaps it may be better, on a personal level, to just ignore what other's may think of you.
However, when speaking of mental ill health, what others think often causes a great deal of problems for people. Stigma can affect people's opportunities in gaining work or finding somewhere to live, for example. So I will be keeping the faith!
Thanks, Dixie.
Very Best Wishes,

Popular Posts