Features, Health, Life, Opinion, Society

Stigma – the escape prevention plan

Ah, stigma.  Our old friend.A sillohette of a person trapped behind glass to symbolise stigma

This is a subject that those of us who take an interest in mental health politics are constantly banging on about, but the message still doesn’t seem to be getting through to others.  The problem is, I think, that all this banging on goes on in circles of people who already know it all already.  If you blog about mental health issues as a sufferer/survivor, it is almost certain you will have encountered stigma yourself.  You will have faced the dilemma of whether to reveal your illness to employers, you will have avoided the subject with relatives you know will just make stupid comments.  So reading the statistics just confirms what you already know.

A report, published last year by the NHS Information Commission, found that only 25% of people would trust most ex-patients of a mental hospital to babysit their child.  21% believed that anyone with a history of mental illness should be prevented from ever taking public office.  11% would not even want to live next door to somebody who has ever suffered from mental illness.  People with mental illness have the highest “want to return to work” rates of all disabilities, but face the biggest unemployment rates of any category of disability.  They also report difficulty in getting treatment, not only for their mental illness, but for any physical illness that may also affect them – people with severe mental illness have a life expectancy that is shortened by around 10 years.

The facts make depressing reading, and even more so when, as I once witnessed myself, they are displayed on a colourful information board in the corridor of a psychiatric ward.  Right next to the door. At one point I hatched a theory that it was put there to stop us wanting to escape to the stigma filled outside world.  Looking back, I was probably over thinking things a little…

This is the thing though.  When we are mental in the first place, we need a bit more understanding, because we are likely to be much more vulnerable.  There is no doubt that we face problems with which we are less able to cope.  I’m not sure that just telling ourselves that the problems exist is really going to help much.   It might make us more afraid to go out of our comfort zone, away from the people who know what it is like to be mentally ill.

Of course, there shouldn’t be stigma, but I think that we need to go beyond raising awareness that it exists and start trying to cope with it when we do see it.

I’m not saying that it shouldn’t be fought.  Of course it should, and I will happily join in the fight.  But, the fight will be ongoing for  while, and all that time we will still have to find jobs, talk to old friends and live our lives.  We can’t just write STIGMA on our front doors and not go out until it goes away.

About Alicia J Duffy

All purpose northern lefty guardian reading feminist single mum.


6 thoughts on “Stigma – the escape prevention plan

  1. You have made me much more aware of the stigma associated with mental health. That has to be a step in the right direction.

    Posted by David Browne | January 24, 2012, 7:16 pm
  2. I agree coping with stigma is vital, eliminating it is a long road with many battles. It really doesn’t help when the stigma around certain conditions is perpetuated by the very people who are supposed to help treat sufferers. For example in BPD, most of the stigma stems from ‘professionals’ who label us ‘mad, bad, untreatable and dangerous’, they will go to many lengths to avoid getting a BPD patient on their list. How can the general public know the truth and avoid stigmatising others when the people that should be informing them encourage mistruths!?

    Posted by showard76 | January 25, 2012, 9:08 am
  3. Hmm I sometimes feel like we’re all preaching/blogging to the choir when it comes to stigma. My worst moment was being rejected for Jury Service, which I blogged about. It was such a slap in the face.

    Posted by Sheila Herd | February 26, 2012, 2:55 pm
  4. Excellent post and terrifying figures – especially that one about 11% of people not wanting my wife and me as their neighbour. Things like that make a life that’s already made extra hard by illness even harder still, and when your illness includes a sizeable side order of anxiety you can get into such a vicious spiral.

    I like One in Four Magazine’s ethos that “those who are able to speak should so that those who can’t don’t have to” (paraphrase). As mental illness is so often so cyclical we all become microcosms of this – there are times when we’re strong enough to speak and times when it takes every ounce of energy to get through the day let alone having to cope with meeting people in the street. The key is to do what we can while we can and not to beat ourselves up when we can’t.

    Posted by danholloway | February 27, 2012, 8:56 pm
  5. Great thought provoking post – I’m in the carnival too, so am just finishing reading all the posts.

    I so agree – before I had children I used to specialise in helping people with mental health problems – but obviously as a private (and slightly alternative) therapist. I was shocked to find what treatments people did get with the NHS sometimes and how difficult it was to get it.

    Posted by Mummy Whisperer | February 29, 2012, 11:17 am


  1. Pingback: Mental Health Carnival « mrsshortiesmind - February 26, 2012

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