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Mental Health Awareness Week – Stigma

During Mental Health Awareness Week, May 14-20, 2018, I’ll be looking at some of the key areas around Mental Health. Showing the great progress we’ve made, which we should be proud of, but also accepting we have so, so far still to go.

Perhaps the most well-known element of the campaigns around mental health, is that of the drive to reduce stigma.

The stigma comes from many places. People often talk about:

  • Social stereotypes and peer pressure – it’s not the case for everyone, but men can sometimes be less open to talk than women when it comes to their own difficult situations. This stigma can be further increased when someone can is worried about labelling something in their mind as being linked to their mental health, in fear of being ridiculed or labelled.
  • Communities – some communities may exert social pressure on particular people or groups within that community, such as oppression towards a particular sex, gender or sexuality, towards people of a certain age or particular background, towards your race or religion and also stigma based on image. If you already face stigma based on a personal or social characteristic, it can often, unfortunately, mean that underlying mental health issues cannot be dealt with, as they end up being a secondary, or less, priority.
  • Discrimination, not just stigma – for some people, notably young black men in many studies, tackling stigma in their own community is hard enough. If they get the chance to work through the stigma of peers, they can then face problems within the health service accessing support, meaning the hard work done to get to that point is then pushed backwards as they struggle to access treatment and support. This is why it’s important we focus on reducing social stigma, but then making sure discrimination against people accessing treatment is also tackled.

As mentioned above, the key focus on reducing stigma, is to allow people to talk more openly about any issues they have. It doesn’t mean they have to label them as mental health problems, just that being able to express and discuss problems, fears and worries can allow such issues to be alleviated, and often not escalate, which could in turn become mental health difficulties.

We are getting better at reducing stigma. This does mean that more people will access services, and this is now a worry with the NHS and Social Care services already at crisis points in many areas due to funding problems, mis-management or a combination of factors. We often see stories about mental health in the news now, however it unfortunately is too often about failures of service and tragedies.

More talking, more openness, more support for each other and we can help reduce stigma more. This is better for all of us, and is something we have to tirelessly fight to achieve.

Some people think that the fact mental health is talked about so regularly means the campaigns have won. The campaign to reduce stigma is definitely underway, but we have a long way to go, and it needs everyone to support each other.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at services, such as CAMHS, and some of the various support options you can access through the NHS, or even your workplace.