Mental health stigma and how we can fight it

Stigma of mental illness has been identified as a significant barrier to help-seeking and care.

Basic knowledge of mental illness – such as its nature, symptoms and impact – are neglected, leaving room for misunderstandings on mental health and ‘stigma’. Numerous researches have been conducted on stigma and discrimination of people with mental disorders. However, most of the literature investigates stigma from a cultural conception point of view, experiences of patients or public attitudes towards mental illness but little to none from the standpoint of mental health professionals. In Malaysia, this research on stigma is particularly limited. Therefore, the state of stigma and discrimination of people with mental illness was investigated from the perspectives of mental health professionals.

Methods

In-depth, face-to-face, semi-structured interviews were conducted with 15 mental health professionals from both government and private sectors including psychiatrists, psychologists and counsellors. The interviews were approximately 45-minutes long. The data was subsequently analysed using the basic thematic approach.

Results

Seven principal themes, each with their own sub-themes, emerged from the analysis of ‘stigma of mental illness’ from mental health professionals’ point of view, including: (1) main perpetrators, (2) types of mental illness carrying stigma, (3) demography and geography of stigma, (4) manifestations of stigma, (5) impacts of stigma, (6) causes of stigma and (7) proposed initiatives to tackle stigma. Stigma of mental illness is widespread. This is most evident amongst people suffering from conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression. Stigma manifests itself most often in forms of labelling, rejection, social exclusion and in employment. Family, friends and workplace staff are reported to be the main perpetrators of discriminatory conducts.