“Mental health and substance use disorders are prevalent and among the most highly stigmatized health conditions in the United States, and they remain barriers to full participation in society in areas as basic as education, housing, and employment,” said David Wegman, professor emeritus in the department of work environment at the University of Massachusetts in Lowell.
Wegman was commenting on a report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine that looked at the results of U.S. campaigns related to HIV/AIDS and at anti-stigma campaigns in England (Time to Change), Canada (Opening Minds), and Australia (beyondblue). While the report found that although many private and public organizations in the U.S. – including eight federal agencies – are already engaged in anti-stigma and mental health promotion efforts, these efforts are largely uncoordinated and poorly evaluated.
“Changing stigma in a lasting way,” Wegman, noted, “will require coordinated efforts, which are based on the best possible evidence, supported at the national level with multiyear funding, and planned and implemented by an effective coalition of representative stakeholders.” Much of the reason for this is due to the fact that our beliefs and attitudes about mental illness are reinforced in multiple ways, from the societal messages we are exposed to, community norms and our daily contact with those with mental illness, to the media reporting about psychiatric disorders and organizational policies and practices around mental illness.
And while overcoming stigmas around mental illness will require a multipronged approach – that includes educational programs, traditional and social media campaigns, legal and policy interventions, and contact based-programs – one area that shows the strongest evidence for reducing stigma is through social contact between people with and without behavioral disorders. It is here that the therapeutic relationship becomes most valuable.
Overcoming The Stigma of Mental Illness, a new course from Professional Development Resources explores the topic of the stigmas surrounding mental illness and provide effective strategies clinicians can use to create a therapeutic environment where clients can explore their attitudes, beliefs, and fears about mental illness, and ultimately find ways to overcome them.
Photo by padlaversusmoij