In a large scale study, Spanish researchers from the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute analyzed mental health surveys conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 28 countries to discover how prevalent mental conditions are in the world and what impact they have.
Aiming to estimate the degree to which a family member might feel embarrassed when a close relative is suffering from an alcohol, drug, or mental health condition versus a general medical health condition, the study found that while both mental and physical conditions are an onus on family members, mental health conditions lead to much greater feelings of embarrassment and shame – even amongst family members of the affected person. (Ahmedani et al., 2016).
“What is most notable is that relatives of patients with mental health illnesses feel greater stigma than those with physical conditions” (Alonso, 2016).
Furthermore, the authors highlight that these conclusions – which take into account the context of the country – are an international trend and that the stigma is “clearly” due to the family member suffering from a mental health condition (Ahmedani et al., 2016).
“The mentally ill are exposed to considerable violations of their human rights all over the world” (WHO, 2016).
In some countries, the WHO found, mentally ill people are abused in various ways and prevented from voting, getting married, or having children.
“The mentally ill are confronted with discrimination on a daily basis in education, employment and housing” (Alonso, 2016).
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), this stigma jeopardizes the treatment of mental health conditions and pushes those who suffer them toward isolation. Notes Alonso, “We suggest that anti-stigma campaigns also include relatives within their target audience,” (Alonso, 2016).
While the WHO proposes several means of avoiding this discrimination – increasing awareness; improving human rights in mental healthcare services; empowering users of mental healthcare services and their families; replacing psychiatric institutions with community healthcare; increasing investment and adopting policies, laws and services that promote human rights – the first place to start might be with the biases and assumptions we make about mental illness.
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