(Stomping out Mental Health Stigma, NHS)
In his 2010 TED Talk, Andrew Steward describes his experience with schizophrenia stating, “when someone breaks an arm we write all over their cast, but when someone suffers from mental problems we run the other way.” According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), one in five people under the age of 65 will experience some sort of mental illness. Enormous stigma, judgment and discrimination are associated with mental illness. Despite the fact that mental illness is so widespread the public appears to have very little understanding about mental illness. CMHA lists and dispute the top 10 myths Canadians hold surrounding mental illnesses. All of the following are incorrect and do not take into account the complexity of mental illness (please see the CMHA website for more details).
Myth #1: Mental illness means that guy is crazy; he isn’t really sick.
Myth #2: Addictions to drugs and alcohol are the result of a lack of willpower.
Myth #3: Mentally ill people have lower intelligence and are poorer than the rest of the population.
Myth #4: Bad parenting causes mental illness.
Myth #5: People with mental illnesses are violent and dangerous.
Myth #6: If a person has schizophrenia, they have multiple personalities.
Myth #7: Electrical shock therapy is like torture. It is inhumane, outdated and completely ineffective.
Myth #8: Once you are diagnosed with a mental illness, you are crazy for the rest of your life.
Myth #9: All people get depressed, as they grow older; it is part of the aging process.
Myth #10: People with a mental illness cannot hold down a job.
Where do all these misunderstandings stem from?
One answer is the media. A recent Canadian review of a number of academic studies concluded five powerful things:
- The mass media is the public’s main source of information about mental illness.
- The information presented by the media about mental illness are often stereotypes that are negative and wrong.
- Negative public attitudes of mental health are connected to negative media portrayals.
- Negative media portrayals directly and negatively affect those living with mental illness.
- Government responses to mental health issues are connected to negative media portrayals of mental illness.
Media has also been using its power for good.
Various ad campaigns, tv shows movies, and film have begun addressing the stigma of mental illness by presenting realistic portrayals of mental illness. Below are a couple of British advertisements addressing the stigma surrounding mental illness and these types of public myths in humorous ways.
United Kingdom Government Public Service Announcement (60 sec):
Time to Change (61 sec):
In TV, an approach called Entertainment Education (EE) has begun to be used to portray mental illness and its treatment in realistic ways. EE is described as “entertainment with social benefits” by its creator Miguel Sabido (Baker, 2005) and has been outlined in a number previous blog posts within this blog by my colleagues.
There has been limited research linking the positive effects of the media on a public beliefs and attitudes about mental illness. However, a 2009 study demonstrated the positive effects of a “multimedia outreach effort to youth dealing with bi-polar disorder” using an EE in a series of episodes on the popular show 902010.
This success suggests that EE can be effectively used to combat the negative impact of media on the public’s understandings of mental illness. In 2005, an American organization called the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) began recognizing “consumer/peer leaders and TV and film professionals who educate the public about the real experiences of people [struggling with mental health conditions]” with their Voice Award program. The 902010 bi-polar story line referred to above won a SAMHSA Voice award in 2009. The following TV shows were recipients of SAMHSA Voice Awards in 2012 for their realistic portrayals of mental illness showing us that media can be part of the solution in the fight against mental health stigma
- Castle – Season 4 Episode 9 “ Kill Shot”
- Glee – Season 3 Episode 14 “On My Way”
- Homeland – Season 1 Episode 11 “ The Vest”
- Law & Order: SVU – Season 13 Episode 1 “Personal Fouls”
- Necessary Roughness – (The entire series)
- Parenthood – Season 3 Episodes 5-9
References not linked to:
Barker K. Sex, soap, and social change: The Sabido methodology. Haider, M., ed. In: Global Public Health Communication: Challenges, Perspectives, and Strategies. Sudbury, Massachusetts, Jones and Bartlett Publishers, 2005. p. 113-154.
Which one of the following activities do you engage in more frequently: (1) Reading the newspaper (2) Openly discussing the stigma surrounding mental illness. Chances are you spend more time reading the newspaper. Newspapers reach many individuals every day, whether it be online, at a table in a cozy coffee shop, or standing on a crowded bus. ‘What’s in the news’ pervades our daily conversations. Unfortunately, stigma and mental illness continue to go together like a morning cup of coffee and a daily newspaper. The question then becomes, how can we reduce the stigma attached to mental illness?
One approach would be to conduct scientifically relevant and rigorous research, present the findings at a conference among a small group of like minded peers, and to further publish those results in a peer reviewed journal to share the knowledge among the academic community. I would argue that this approach is already happening, and that the results have been less than impressive. Don’t get me wrong, I find tremendous value in the scientific method, but I think that if we are going to truly reduce the stigma attached to mental illness we need some help getting the word out.
Well, let’s fire up the printing presses! I recently came across four newspaper articles that I think you should take a look at. I am in no way trying to tell you what to think, I am merely offering up a subject matter that I think desperately needs and deserves your attention.
Lets start with some one stop shopping. The Globe and Mail published a special report on mental illness that is worth taking a look at if you are interested in learning more about mental illness. I find this resource to be very user friendly, with a mix of written word and visual media. It covers many different mental health issues affecting the young, the old, and everyone in between.
Now that you have completed mental illness 101, let us move on. I refer you next to a piece from the Huffington Post. This piece discusses how we might reduce the stigma of mental illness, and presents some information and skills that can help us along the way.
In case your interest in waning, let me recapture your attention with two words: Violence & Television. Still reading? Great. Unfortunately, many people associate having a mental illness with being violent. I refer you to a piece in USA Today that discusses the perception that people with a mental illness are prone to violence. The truth is that having a mental illness makes you more likely to be a victim rather than a perpetrator of violence.
The last article on my list shines the light on how mental illness is framed within television shows. If you are curious which stars have been affected by mental illness, and which current TV shows are showcasing mental illness (for better or for worse), then spend some time with this last piece.
The point of this post was to encourage us all to educate ourselves and each other about the ‘truth’ behind mental illness. One way to ‘spread the word’ is to use a media source that already makes its way into the homes of so many. You do not have to be a journalist to contribute to this cause. There are many ways to contribute to a newspaper. What if you are not someone who enjoys writing? Well then take to reading, asking questions, and sharing your thoughts. The stigma surrounding mental illness can be found all too often, and it can be difficult to separate the facts from the fiction. Ignorance is not bliss, however, and we need to hold ourselves and others accountable. Spread the word.