has stigma improved

Has stigma improved?  It’s one of the vital questions when it comes to tackling the currently ever-increasing mental health epidemic.  Anyone who has ever suffered from a mental health condition is likely to tell you that stigma has played a large part in their journey.  Perhaps it stopped them from opening up and seeking help.  Maybe others have ridiculed them or made them feel useless. Stigma causes people to suffer job losses, accusations of lying, and even ostracism from their friends.

I have no doubt that stigma has played a significant part in many of the suicides that we hear, all too often, about.  Stigma impacts so detrimentally on peoples health and well-being, and with such a large portion of the population suffering from a mental health condition at some point in their lives (conservative figures put it at over 50%), you would hope that stigma is lessening and the impact becoming smaller.

Has Stigma Improved – The Results

We asked our readers, ‘Do you feel stigma surrounding mental health has decreased, increased or remained the same over the past 5 years?’.  498 of you responded, and here are the results.

  • 44% of you feel stigma has decreased over the last 5 years.
  • 32% = no change
  • 24% = worsened

It is heartening that the largest single group feel that things have improved.  However, over half of respondents still report that stigma remains the same, or that it’s even worse.

The Need to Dig Deeper

The question itself poses many more.  As pointed out by some readers, it is difficult to answer in this way:

Sarah Lydle “It’s hard to answer in this way … I feel stigma about depression has decreased and it’s understood way more now. But not sure about a lot of other illnesses. People still think I’m rude or lazy because I skip things due to my anxiety I feel.”

It is true that mental health is a very broad topic.  Even in the case of depression, one of the better known conditions, there is so much the medical community needs to learn about causes, treatment, impact etc.  Without this deep knowledge it is difficult to educate those who perpetuate the stigma sufficiently.  It is so disappointing to see promises of extra funding constantly broken.  The reality is that we actually have real term cuts to funding.

Vix Heyman “Seems to be increasing. For years people have campaigned for more public spending on mental health and every year there are more cuts. Whatever happened to mental and physical health being equal. On a positive note though the people who I volunteer for have been amazing understanding my Autism.” 

Chris Lewis  “The destigmatisation is skin deep when it comes to actions (like giving parity in funding and research priorities in the NHS to mental and physical health) it is non-existent.”

Has Stigma Improved? Impossible to Answer

So, has stigma improved?  One shortcoming of the question is that stigma shows itself in many ways in many places.  Stigma can come from individuals, companies, organisations, medical professionals, yourself, your loved ones, etc.  Evaluating how this has changed is a near impossible task.  Stigma may have decreased in one area, but increased in another.

Klaire Sutcliffe-Campo “It does depend on situation. I feel that if you’re accessing medical services and you have mental health disclosure, dispute it being controlled, then being pushed at to take services that are unsuitable can be distressing. I’ve found that medical professionals don’t like getting told no. I have been med free for ages but still get viewed as I could break at any moment. My work is fab and really understanding towards mental health.”

Christine Brand “The question is too vague. I’m not sure the reaction to someone in the street talking to themselves has changed much, but I do think the education of people has improved in general. It will be different depending on the severity too, anxiety vs bipolar, for example.”

Michael Brent “In terms of some individuals it’s decreased. In terms of overall society, services and workplaces it’s not understood at all.

Conclusion

Even those whose experience tells them stigma has improved state that the change is only minor, and that there is a very long way to go.  With stigma being present in so many places and presenting in so many different ways, knowing how to significantly reduce it is a daunting task.  We know the more we talk about it, the more we educate people, the more the conversation becomes normalised.  This alone won’t remove stigma, but it does help, as well as knowing what we want an end result to look like.

Educating ourselves and others is key.  Stigma in part exists due to ignorance.  Not wilful ignorance, but a genuine lack of knowledge and understanding.  The more information we have, the more informed the discussion.  When that becomes more and more commonplace, stigma will become more obviously illogical and outdated.  This is a long path, but an essential one, and one that we at 1in4 have fully committed to.

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