Mental Health Awareness Week begins today and this year’s focus is on anxiety and depression. We have created a dedicated area all about anxiety here. On these pages you will find information on recognising the signs of anxiety and depression, tips on how to reduce anxiety and information on how to get help. You can also read stories from people who have experience of using our mental health services.
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Stigma in mental health – Awareness is the best cure
Dr Tade Thompson
Clinical Director Designate and Consultant Psychiatrist in Adult Mental Health Services
My first direct encounter with mental illness was about twenty years ago when I lived in a house-share with a few friends. A gentleman called Peter (not his real name) seemed just like the rest of us when I moved in. After a few months he started acting a bit erratically. He started talking to himself, being suspicious of people and spending hours lying in the bath. It turns out that Peter suffered from schizophrenia and about twice a year he would go missing. We later found out that at those times he was admitted to hospital. I would like to say that we didn’t treat Peter any differently after finding out, but that would not be true. When we found out about his diagnosis we pulled away from him ever so slightly as we weren’t sure how we should be around him anymore.
Stigma in mental illness is a form of discrimination based on a diagnosis. The diagnosis makes us behave towards a person as if all they are is the illness. Stigma has serious consequences for those who suffer from mental illness and the people who look after them.
Tackling this problem is not easy. Stigma has probably been with us since humanity existed. Awareness about mental illness among the general population is probably the best cure, but how do people become aware? To change attitudes we have to speak out. We have to challenge opinions about mental health as they appear in the media. We have to give talks and seminars. We must refuse labels (Peter is a person who suffers from schizophrenia, he is not a schizophrenic) and encourage more thoughtful conversation about mental illness.
For our part, Solent NHS Trust embraces the principles of Recovery. This means that we take into account the client’s opinion of how they see their lives and what they wish to achieve. We have a number of initiatives which include pioneering Recovery Outcome Measures, the Recovery College (in partnership with Highbury) and having a recovery lead. In the words of the recovery lead: “it’s about giving people with long term mental health problems the necessary support to help with their recovery – or to live with their illness”. We practice what we preach and we employ people who have had mental health difficulties.
I would like to think that with the knowledge and experience that I now have, I would react differently if I were to meet Peter today.
Solent Recovery College:
Rethink on Stigma