What role can you play in reducing stigma?

One in four people in the world will be affected by a problem with their mental health at some point in their lives (World Health Organisation).  Around 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions, placing mental illness among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide, and WHO estimate mental health disorders can be found in more than 10% of the European Union (EU) population during any given year.  It is estimated that two-thirds of people with a known mental illness never seek professional help. According to Eurostat, suicide remains a significant cause of premature death in Europe, with over 50.000 deaths a year in the EU. Nine of the ten countries with the highest rates of suicide in the world are in the European Region.

The large treatment gap between those with mental disorders and those who receive adequate, appropriate treatment for their illness also needs to be narrowed. Stigma is one the reasons for the lack of attention to mental health by healthcare systems and policymakers.  It is also one of the leading barriers for sufferers to seek treatment and support.  In order to reduce mental health stigma, we need to first understand the nature and extent of the problem, and examine current best practice guidelines that help improve outcomes.

We are currently conducting a study in this and will have a full article on our findings but below are just a few tips we would recommend from our research:

  1. Anyone who feel alone with a mental health disorder should remember 10% of the EU population is going through the same thing, so never feel alone!
  2. Education to lower self-stigma is vital. Self stigma is when people who are stigmatised, share the stereotypes of others, and turn them against themselves e.g. “if people who have mental illnesses are dangerous, I must be dangerous” (Watson, 2007). If you suffer from mental ill health, read up about it from respected sources, talk to professionals and make sure you have the facts as opposed to other people’s stereotypes of your condition.
  3. Anti stigma campaigns need to be individually tailored to respective countries and their cultures- what works in one country, might not necessarily work as efficiently in another country. Mental health policies and associated treatments vary between countries and there isn’t a one anti stigma campaign fits all solution, although successful campaigns could be used as inspiration for future campaigns.
  4. Change the “Us” and “Them” viewpoint and reduce this idea of separation between the two, we are all people and everyone has a duty of care to maintain their physical and mental health. Having a mental health disorder doesn’t define someone’s personality. Direct contact with people who have such disorders and who protest against stigmatising attitudes have been commonly used as an integrative approach and has worked quite well with both adults and in schools.
  5. Keep an eye on how mental health is portrayed in the media, they have a very important role in helping to challenge mental health stigma and inform the public. If you see a strong article, share it. If you read an article that appears to support incorrect stereotypes or isn’t a balanced article around mental health, contact the media source and ask them about it. Actions like this can help make a change.
  6. Talking can have such a major impact around challenging stigma, it’s a key component of many campaigns. While talking can be difficult, a number of organisations use the Arts as a way to challenge attitudes and to provide a space for conversations for unscripted conversations around mental health like mental health arts festivals such as Art4 More in Greece or First Fortnight in Ireland. The featured image is from The Big Gig from First Fortnight Festival 2018 where a concert is held and is used as a place to get conversations about mental health going. There is a whole network of Europe organisations in support of mental health arts festivals called NEFELE.
  7. Sport can also play a role in stigma reduction as it provides an excellent way to integrate people and reduce the “us” and “them” illusion and challenge stereotypes. It can be a strong setting for the male population in particular to spark conversations around mental health.

We really recommend you check out the following articles if you are interested in learning more: