Stigma is shame, disgrace, discrimination. So begins “Crying Shame“, a report by the Priory Group in the UK, written to increase awareness of the stigma surrounding mental illness, and encourage people to be more accepting of sufferers.
“Stigma” is a catch-all kind of word. It’s a group of negative attitudes and beliefs that motivate people to fear, reject, and discriminate against those with mental illnesses. They avoid living, socializing or working with, renting to, or employing them.
I have never suffered from this stigma. I’ve rarely felt it, and when I have, I’ve chosen to ignore it. But as the comments on this blog have increased and I’ve received more email, I’ve come to realize that the stigma surrounding mental illness is, unbelievably, alive and very well. And widespread. Many readers here are feeling its effects.
The “Crying Shame” report reveals that 72% of adults in the UK believe that there is a stigma attached to mental illness, and that people with a mental illness are unpredictable (79%), dangerous (50%) and scary (49%). Only 45 per cent think that people with long-term mental illnesses can live independent, fulfilled lives. Hmmm…excuse me? It is ironic that mental illness touches just about everyone, in one way or another, over the course of their lifetime.
Stigma is borne out of fear and ignorance, so a good way to counter it is to replace the preconceptions and misinformation with better understanding and knowledge.
It’s a start, but at a personal level it’s much easier said than done.